Women are losing the ability to outlive men because of the pressure of juggling full-time work and family, official figures suggest.
An analysis of mortality rates over the past 50 years, published by Britain’s Office for National Statistics, shows how men are rapidly narrowing the gap on women in longevity. The shift has been attributed to changes in men’s working environments, particularly the decline of heavy industry and mining, and falling smoking rates.
The study, which compares death figures from 1963 and 2013, also recognises the effect of the transformation of women’s lives over the past half-century. It concludes that while men have become healthier, women’s longevity might have been held back by workplace stress and associated smoking and drinking that was previously more commonly associated with men.
Overall, it shows that mortality rates – the number of deaths for every 1,000 people in a particular group – have improved for both men and women.
It singles out improvements in combating circulatory diseases such as heart disease and strokes, partly because of lower smoking rates, and medical advances such as the introduction of statins.
Although both sexes are living longer and women still outlive men, the gap is narrowing. The age group in which men are statistically most likely to die has jumped by 15 years in the last half century, but the peak for female deaths is largely unchanged.
Analysts compared the number of deaths for both sexes in age bands in 1963 and last year. In the early 1960s, men most commonly died in their early 70s (15 per cent of all male deaths). The peak for women was 80 to 85 and over 85, both of which bands accounted for 18 per cent of female deaths. Nowadays, the peak for both sexes is over 85.
Similarly, in 1963 the mortality rate for men aged between 55 and 69 was double that of women. Today it is only about 50 per cent higher.
The ONS said: “The general narrowing of the gap between male and female mortality rates can be explained by a number of reasons, including improvements in male health. Increases in women entering the labour force over the last 50 years are considered to have had an impact on levels of stress, smoking and drinking, leading to changes in the health of females.”
In the 1970s and 80s, 44 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women aged over 60 smoked. Now only around 13 per cent of either sex in that age range does so.
The biggest drops in mortality rates were 69 per cent for men in their late 60s, and 60 per cent for women in their early 70s. Overall the gap between male and female mortality rates has narrowed for every age group, except men in their 30s.