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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006, 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK
Women 'outliving men worldwide'
Elderly women
Men have tend to take more risks than women, the paper said
Women outlive men everywhere in the world thanks to fewer deaths in childbirth, research suggests.

In 2002 the World Health Organisation reported male life expectancy exceeded that of women in only six countries.

But research by Professor Danny Dorling at Sheffield University found this was no longer true anywhere in the world.

The British Medical Journal paper put the changes down to reductions in childbirth deaths, and the fact that more men smoke.

What we really need is for men to start behaving a little but more like women rather than the other way round.
Professor Dorling

Professor Dorling told the BBC News website: "I wanted to draw a map of where women died earlier than men and I couldn't find anywhere where that happened.

"The main story is that childbirth has become much safer in so many countries.

"Childbirth is still a major killer of women - but what we've had in birth care for 100 years, other poorer countries have only just got."

Professor Dorling said the change should be celebrated but risked passing by unnoticed.

His paper said: "Almost 30 years ago, amid much fanfare, the eradication of smallpox was announced.

"But when it becomes certain that women everywhere can expect to live longer than men, also a remarkable achievement, a similar announcement is unlikely.

"We tend to forget that in many countries of the world women could expect, until recently, to live fewer years than men and that maternal mortality in particular remains a big killer."

'Risky behaviour'

Conversely, men are continuing to smoke in much higher numbers than women around the world, he said.

However, the paper pointed out that in western European countries, where women have been outliving men since the 1890s, the gap between male and female life expectancy was narrowing.

"Greater emancipation has freed women to demand better health care and to behave more like men - and, most importantly, smoke," it said.

In Britain and Europe this had happened over the last 20 to 30 years and the impact was already being seen on life expectancy rates, said Professor Dorling.

However, he added: "Women are not doing the risky behaviour that men do - driving too fast, getting into fights and drinking large amounts of alcohol.

"What we really need is for men to start behaving a little but more like women rather than the other way round."

Lives still lost

Spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Mr Peter Bowen-Simpkins said that although maternal death rates were coming down, there were still huge gaps in rates between western European countries and developing countries.

In Britain maternal mortality rates were between six and 10 per 100,000 - most of these were pregnant women killed in traffic and other accidents, he pointed out.

In Ethiopia rates were more like 1,000 per 100,000 and in Bangladesh they were around 1,800 per 100,000.

"In sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh and Yemen rates are still appallingly high. This report ignores the fact that there are still countries where maternal mortality is very high."

He said that although many women now had assistance at birth this was mostly carried out by traditional birth attendants with very little or no medical training.

Dame Karlene Davis, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said 500,000 women still lose their lives each year in developing countries during pregnancy, labour and birth.

"Far too of many these deaths are due to common problems that would not result in fatalities in developed countries where women have ready access to professional midwifery care," she stressed.

Life expectancy gap 'widening'
29 Apr 05 |  Health

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