Life expectancy for manual workers may now be starting to catch up with non-manual workers, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests.
Life expectancy for manual workers may now be catching up
From 1997 to 2005, male life expectancy rose faster for manual than non-manual workers.
For women, life expectancy rose but at a similar rate for those in both manual and non-manual jobs.
The ONS warned though that its figures should be treated with care as they might not reflect a permanent trend.
"Some degree of variation is to be expected as a result of sampling and the results for the latest period, while interesting, are not conclusive evidence of an underlying change in the pattern of inequalities," said the ONS.
Stewart Ritchie, President of the Faculty of Actuaries, said the figures were possibly the first evidence of changing lifestyles among manual workers.
"A lot of the drag on improvements in longevity is about smoking, drinking, eating and exercising," he said.
"A lot of us have expected for some time that manual workers would change their habits and start catching up.
"Maybe this is the first evidence," he said.
In the past few decades, life expectancy has increased faster for those in non-manual jobs than for those in manual occupations.
But the ONS figures suggest things may have changed.
Comparing the years 1997-2001 with 2002-2005, it found that male 65-year-old non-manual workers saw their life expectancy rise by 0.8 years.
By contrast, male manual workers saw their life expectancy go up even faster, by 1.2 years.
"A close look at the figures suggests that in the past few years life expectancy at 65 has not improved at all for men in the highest social group doing professional jobs," pointed out Stephen Yeo of the actuaries Watson Wyatt.
For women, improvements in life expectancy were similar regardless of whether they were manual or non-manual workers.
The trend for men and women in all social groups to live longer is well established, and in recent years seems to have been accelerating.
This has profound implications for all aspects of society.
For instance, state, occupational and private pension schemes will have to pay out to their pensioners for far longer than originally anticipated.
Back in the period between 1972 and 1976, male non-manual workers could, at birth, expect to live to 71 while their manual counterparts would live, on average, to 69 years.
By 2002-05 the non-manual men had seen their live expectancy at birth rise by 8 years and manual workers by 7 years.
And these figures do not reflect any further improvements in life expectancy that may take place.
The Paternoster insurance company, which specialises in buying up pension schemes, is now assuming an even greater increase in the longevity of pension scheme members.
It is now assuming that members of final salary schemes will see as many as half of their current 30 year olds live to 100.
This will require a significant improvement in healthcare because the present chance of living to 100 is 18.1% for boys; 23.5% for girls, according to the Office for National Statistics.
But to ensure it has enough money tucked away to pay all the pensioners for whom it takes on responsibility, it is assuming there will be many more of them in the future.
"As a regulated insurance company we are required to ensure our capital is sufficient to cover a wide range of possible future scenarios," said Richard Willets of Paternoster.
"Whilst it is true that members of defined benefit pension schemes tend to live longer than people who are not in defined benefit (DB) schemes, given that nearly half the population have been a member of a DB scheme at some stage of their life these figures are nonetheless important."