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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 12:05 GMT
French live longest in Europe
Jeanne Calment
France's Jeanne Calment was the world's oldest woman
France has held on to its record for the longest life expectancy in Europe.

Men in France live on average to be 75.5 years old, while women top 83 years, say new figures.

That puts the French substantially ahead of the European average, which is 74.9 years for men and 81.2 years for women.

And the French just keep getting older. The figures for 2001, released by the French National Statistics Institute (Insee), show improving life expectancy over the past 12 months, with an increase of three-and-a-half months.

The good life

French longevity has been put down to a mixture of diet and relaxed lifestyle.

The oldest woman of all time, France's Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122, attributed her good health to port wine and olive oil.

Click here to see Europe's life expectancy

Only Spanish women come close to achieving the grand old age of their French counterparts, with an average life expectancy of 82.7 years.

French men, however, are outdone by the Swedes and Italians, who can expect to live to be 76.

But a future challenger may well be the Irish, whose death rate has dropped by a massive 7%.

Baby boom

There was more good news for the French from the annual facts and figures survey.

The birth rate has stayed above the 4% mark - going against a European trend, which shows births dropping, causing an increasingly elderly population.

Although the report shows that 43% of the 774,800 babies born in 2001 were to unmarried couples, the new figures show marriages are also on the increase.

But the theory of the seven-year itch appears to be untrue. Insee says that divorces peak at year five of the marriage, and decrease progressively from then on.

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See also:

19 Feb 01 | San Francisco
Life expectancy of 100 'unrealistic'
08 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan hits record for centenarians
04 Aug 00 | UK
Tea with a centenarian
03 Nov 00 | Health
NHS appoints anti-ageism czar
23 Sep 98 | Health
Fearing the age factor
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