When I traveled to Iceland in 2018, the World Economic Forum had ranked it No. 1 in gender equality for an entire decade. According to the common way of discussing that honor, the country must be a feminist utopia for women. What goes under-reported is how great it is for men, too. In fact, Icelandic men enjoy the highest life expectancy in Europe. They live almost as long as women do. If the number of years spent on Earth is one of the strongest predictors of well-being, Icelandic men are doing pretty well.
Is there some unique magic in the Reykjavik air that makes this possible? Not at all. Iceland offers a model that could be widely adopted elsewhere in the world. It helps show that changing men’s ideas about what it means to be a man, and lifting up women in the process, doesn’t make men worse off – it has far-reaching benefits to their lives.
The health advantages of feminism for men are not evident only in Iceland. In other countries with stronger gender equality, men also tend to fare better. According to research by Norwegian sociologist and men’s studies expert Oystein Gullvag Holter, there is a direct correlation between the state of gender equality in a country and male well-being, as measured by factors such as welfare, mental health, fertility and suicide. Men (and women) in more gender-equal countries in Europe are less likely to get divorced, be depressed or die as a result of violence.
Women typically live longer than men because of several biological advantages that make them more resilient and give them more stamina (despite the stereotype that women lack it). But that’s only part of the equation. The other component of the life expectancy gap is what scientists literally call man-made diseases. These are cultural: Men are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, engage in high-risk behavior and have accidents at work.
A report from the World Health Organisation points to three reasons men don’t live as long: the way men work (they endure greater “exposure to physical and chemical hazards”), their willingness to take risks (thanks to “male norms of risk-taking and adventure”) and their discomfort with doctors (they’re “less likely to visit a doctor when they are ill and, when they see a doctor, are less likely to report on the symptoms of disease or illness”).