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Last Updated: Friday, 16 September 2005, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Lifestyle 'hits life length gap'
Female excess drinking rates are rising faster than men
Female smoking and drinking habits may be causing the gender life expectancy gap to narrow, a study says.

Both men and women in England and Wales are living longer than in the 1970s.

And while female life expectancy has always been higher, the gap between the sexes has narrowed by two years to 4.5, the Office of Health Economics said.

The think-tank said the trend seemed to be linked to converging lifestyles with female drinking rising quicker than men and smoking dropping more slowly.

1974 - Women lived for 75.6 years and men for 69.2, a gap of 6.4
2002 - Female life expectancy was 80.7 years, while for males it was 76.2, a difference of 4.5

In 1974, women lived 75.6 years on average, while men lived for 69.2, a gap of 6.4.

By 2002 female life expectancy stood at 80.7 years, compared to 76.2 for males, a difference of 4.5.

A range of factors including medical advancements are behind the rise in life expectancy.

But the research body, funded by the drugs industry, said the speed of the rises appeared to have been affected by differences in lifestyle habits between men and women.

The study said over the period a quarter of men gave up smoking, compared to 15% of women, although fractionally more men than women still smoke.

Between 1988 and 2002 the numbers of women drinking to excess more than tripled, compared to a 20% rise for men. Again, more men still drink to excess.


However, the researchers said men were catching up to women in the obesity stakes.

The change in lifestyle habits has been accompanied by a drop in lung cancer deaths among men, while there has been a rise in women.

And heart disease rates are falling faster in men.

OHE director Adrian Towse said it was a "complicated picture".

But he added: "Clearly there are elements of our lifestyle which our damaging our health."

But Professor Ruth Hancock, an ageing expert at the University of Essex, said it was "too simplistic" to put it down to lifestyle alone.

"We have not really got to the bottom of why women live longer, so it is hard to say why the gap has narrowed.

"A number of factors for life expectancy have been put forward, including lifestyle and genetics."

And Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield, said smoking was probably a key factor, although it was "too soon" to see the effect of recent drinking habits.

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