While it is commonly believed that animals live longer in zoos than in the wild, this assumption has rarely been tested. We compared four survival metrics (longevity, baseline mortality, onset of senescence and rate of senescence) between both sexes of free-ranging and zoo populations of more than 50 mammal species. We found that mammals from zoo populations generally lived longer than their wild counterparts (84% of species). The effect was most notable in species with a faster pace of life (i.e. a short life span, high reproductive rate and high mortality in the wild) because zoos evidently offer protection against a number of relevant conditions like predation, intraspecific competition and diseases. Species with a slower pace of life (i.e. a long life span, low reproduction rate and low mortality in the wild) benefit less from captivity in terms of longevity; in such species, there is probably less potential for a reduction in mortality. These findings provide a first general explanation about the different magnitude of zoo environment benefits among mammalian species, and thereby highlight the effort that is needed to improve captive conditions for slow-living species that are particularly susceptible to extinction in the wild.