Women are also being diagnosed with traditional 'male' diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure and adopting unhealthy habits, such as binge drinking, that were once the preserve of men may also be taking its toll. For men, on the other hand, quitting smoking and taking more care of their health in middle age is believed to have boosted their life expectancy.
At the moment the average life expectancy in England is 82.9 for women and 78.9 for men but Public Health England figures suggest that men can now expect to outlive women in 110 districts. In general, lifespans of men and women are closer than at any time since the early 1950s – a time when women lived on average until 70 and men into their late 60s.
Les Mayhew, an Adviser to the Office for National Statistics, said : “There is a long-running trend since the 1970s for male life expectancy to catch up with female, and in some areas they have now caught or surpassed it. The figures show which areas are in the lead for this phenomenon, but the gain for male life expectancy is to do with the lifestyle of the men living there rather than something unusual about the geographical location.” He suggested that men in such areas tend to be better educated and have the best work prospects.
“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.”
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. Male cigarette consumption peaked in the 1940s when tobacco industry figures revealed that more than two-thirds of men smoked whereas female consumption peaked later, in the 1960s. As well as changing attitudes to cigarettes and alcohol, the loss of heavy industry jobs, which were statistically more dangerous in both the short- and long-term, also disproportionately affected men
The latest findings, from Public Health England for 2006 to 2010, show that the second biggest gap in longevity between men and women, after Crawley, is in the wealthy area of Ladbroke Grove East in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London. Here, men tend to live to 93 and women only to eighty-seven and a half – a difference of five and a half years. A second area in the posh borough, Sloane Street, comes in at number three for men living longer than women. There, men can live to 93.5, 4.9 years longer than the women at 88.6 years.
“As the life expectancy gap narrows, our understanding of what it means to be a man and a woman changes.”Danny Dorling