Men can expect to live as long as women by the year 2032, with both sexes sharing an average life expectancy of 87.5 years, a study suggests.
The analysis, led by Les Mayhew, professor of statistics at Cass Business School, calculated how long a sample of 100,000 people aged 30 would live if they experienced the average mortality rates for each ensuing year, projecting forward until the male and female life expectancy curves intersected.
Mayhew said there are a number of factors that explain the narrowing gap.
“A general fall in tobacco and alcohol consumption has disproportionately benefited men, who tended to smoke and drink more than women,” he explained. “We’ve also made great strides in tackling heart disease, which is more prevalent in men. And men are far more likely to engage in ‘high-risk’ behaviours, and far more likely to die in road accidents, which have fallen too.”
The life expectancy gender gap is closing faster than was previously thought. Research published in 2015 by Imperial College had indicated it would narrow to 1.9 years by 2030.
In the years immediately after 1950, women’s life expectancy increased faster than men’s in England and Wales, with the gender gap peaking in 1969, when women lived on average 5.68 years longer.
Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College, told the Guardian the gap can be attributed largely to social rather than biological factors.
“It’s actually the existence of the gap that is unusual, rather than the narrowing. It’s a recent phenomenon which began in the 20th century,” he said.
In addition to the heavy male death tolls caused by two world wars, men started to smoke in large numbers before women did and women’s consumption never outpaced men’s.
As well as changing attitudes to cigarettes and alcohol, the loss of heavy industry jobs – statistically more dangerous in both the short- and long-term – also disproportionately affected men.
The Cass analysis projects that by 2030, men in the most deprived areas of England and Wales will on average die 8.8 years earlier than those in the least deprived. For women, the gap between rich and poor will be 7.3 years – with both these lifespan inequalities worsening from their current levels.
“Early death will certainly become a rarer event, but higher mortality rates for younger ages will still be the norm in the most deprived decile in England and Wales, unless something radically changes,” Mayhew said.