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This article is part of the supplement: Women's Health Surveillance Report

Open Access Report

Mortality: life and health expectancy of Canadian women

Marie DesMeules1*, Douglas Manuel2 and Robert Cho3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, Health Canada, 120 Colonnade Rd, Ottawa, Canada

2 Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, 119, 2075 Bayview Ave, Toronto, Canada

3 Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, Health Canada, 120 Colonnade Rd, Ottawa, Canada

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BMC Women's Health 2004, 4(Suppl 1):S9  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-4-S1-S9

Published: 25 August 2004


Health Issue

The sex differences in mortality, life expectancy, and, to a lesser extent, health expectancy, are well recognized in Canada and internationally. However, the factors explaining these differences between women and men are not well understood. This chapter explores the contribution of various causes of death (such as preventable, and sex-specific deaths) on these differences between women and men.

Key Findings

"External" preventable causes of death (e.g. smoking-related, injuries, etc.) were responsible for a large portion of the sex gap in mortality and life expectancy. When excluding these causes from the calculations, the sex gap in life expectancies were largely reduced, decreasing from approximately 5.5 years (life expectancy being 81.4, years in women, and 75.9 years in men) to approximately 2.2 years (84.9 in women and 82.7 in men). Sex gaps in corresponding health expectancies entirely disappeared when these preventable causes of death were excluded. Moreover, a larger death burden was observed among women than men for sex-specific causes of death (eg. excess breast cancer, gynaecological cancers, maternal mortality). Significant disparities were also observed in the mortality rates of various subgroups of women by geographic regions of Canada.

Data Gaps and Recommendations

These results indicate that women do not appear to have a large biological survival advantage but, rather, are at lower risk of preventable deaths. They also provide additional information needed for the development of policies aimed at reducing disparities in life and health expectancies in Canada and other developed countries.