Growing gap between lifespan of rich and poor, research finds

Research by City University London has said that the gap between the lifespans of rich and poor people in England and Wales is widening, for the first time since the 1870s.

The research analysed figures from the Human Mortality Database and measured the differences in age between the youngest 10 per cent of adult deaths and the oldest five per cent. The data showed that while everyone is living longer, rich people’s lives are extending faster.

Historically better life expectancy narrowed the gap in the early 20th Century, steadily closing from 1870 to 1939.

Professor Les Mayhew, author of the report, said: “Everyone benefited from improvements in clean drinking water, better housing, higher incomes and better health.”

However, after 1950, inequalities in lifespan durations began to increase again, despite further rises in life expectancy. In particular, the report found that in the 1990s onwards, men were more worse off.
The data showed that for men who died in 2010 over the age of 30: the oldest five per cent reached an average age of almost 96; but the youngest 10 per cent died at an average age of just over 62 - more than 33 years younger; and by 2009 this longevity gap was 1.7 years greater than it had been at its narrowest in 1993.

For women who died aged over 30 in 2010: the oldest five per cent reached an average age of just over 98; the youngest 10 per cent died at an average age of just over 67 - a longevity gap of 31 years; and for women this gap was narrowest in 2005.

The report concluded: “Many of the big gains from public health improvements are in the past and personal choices are now much more important. Men in lower socio-economic groups are the most likely to make damaging lifestyle choices. They put themselves in harm's way on average more than women do - they smoke more, drink more and there are periods in their lives when they partake in riskier activities.”

Baroness Sally Greengross, chief executive of the International Longevity Centre, said: “Preventing inequalities in ill health and disability must be a priority for policy action.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman maintained that everybody should have an equal chance to have a long and healthy life.

She said: “The number of workless households is at a record low and we know that economic security can provide the foundation for better physical and mental health. We have shown that we are willing to take tough action to protect the public's health."