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Men catching up to women in life expectancy

A new "Longevity Index" has found that while women still live four years longer on average, men are gaining twice as fast in the age race.
/ Source: Reuters

As the first of the 75 million baby boomers touch 60 in January, there’s good news for the men: They are catching up to women in life expectancy.

A new “Longevity Index” by Credit Suisse First Boston shows that while women still live four years longer on average, men are gaining twice as fast in the age race.

Medical experts say women are working harder, smoking more and undergoing more stress, which leads to the No. 1 killer — heart disease.

“We are getting equality in ways we may not want,” said Dr. Sharon Brangman, a board member of the American Geriatrics Society.

The Longevity Index is designed to help insurance companies and pension funds hedge their risk as both men and women live longer -- and cost more -- in pension payments and lifetime annuity payments.

Women can now expect an average 82.6 years of life, the index shows, while men can look forward to 78.1 years.

But over the last 10 years, the average annual rate of improvement for men has been 2 percent; for women, it’s slightly less than 1 percent, the index shows.

For the 22 years covered by the index, the expected average lifetime for men has gone up by 3.7 years; women’s climbed only 1.7 years.

While some male-dominated causes of death such as alcohol, drugs, firearms and AIDS have dropped in recent years, the biggest change has been in the toll taken by the traditional killers: heart disease and cancer.

Men’s lung cancer rates have been declining since 1990, while women’s were rising, statistics show.

“Women started smoking seriously 25 years ago, and the lag time for this epidemic has kicked in,” said Dr. Michael Thun, who heads epidemiological research at the American Cancer Society.

The Credit Suisse index shows the greatest advances have been made in the 50-year-old age bracket, where heart disease frequently fells middle-agers.

Lifestyle changes such as exercise and low-fat diets, along with cardiac bypass surgery and defibrillators, are keeping more people alive, Dr. Brangman said.

Despite the gains, it’s likely that women will continue to outlive men, said Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics.

“Men engage in more risky behavior,” he said. “It’s just our lot to die sooner.”