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Despite huge increases in life expectancy, the gap between rich and poor is increasing for the first time since the 1870s, according to this new report from Cass Business School, City University London and the ILC-UK.

Despite huge increases in life expectancy, the gap between rich and poor is increasing for the first time since the 1870s, according to this new report from Cass Business School, City University London and the ILC-UK.

This report, An investigation into inequalities in adult lifespan, by Professor Les Mayhew and Dr David Smith, finds that unhealthy lifestyles are the main causes of this widening gap.

The report finds:

  • That five per cent of men in Britain that have attained the age of 30 are living to an average of 96 years-old – 33.3 years longer than the lowest 10 per cent.
  • In women, the longest surviving are reaching 98.2 years-old, 31 years longer than the lowest.
  • Men in lower socio-economic groups are most likely to make damaging lifestyle choices.

Report author Professor Mayhew said:

“We looked at data from the 1870s onwards comparing England and Wales with France and Italy. It was clear that the first half of the 20th Century was characterised by a narrowing of the gap in life span as everyone benefited from improvements in clean drinking water, better housing, higher incomes and better health. Despite general rises in life expectancy after 1950, the life expectancy gap between men and women widened whilst inequalities in lifespan persisted rather than narrowing further.

“We found that since the 1990s lifespan inequalities in men have actually worsened in England and Wales. This is partly due to some men now living to exceptionally old ages and in many cases equalling women but at the other end of the distribution there has been a lack of progress.  The research blames the widening disparity on poor life style choices rather than ambient risks which were prevalent in the first half of the 20th Century. Key amongst these is smoking, drinking and poor diet – choices that are more likely to be made by the poorest in society.”

A previous UK Government set a target in 2003 that by 2010 inequalities in health outcomes should be reduced by 10% as measured by life expectancy at birth. Not only was the target missed but in fact the opposite has happened. The research concludes the answer is not so much about redistributing healthcare expenditure but more about changing lifestyle habits. The research argues that more powerful policy tools aimed at behavioural change are needed to steer people towards healthier lifestyles."

Baroness Sally Greengross, ILC-UK Chief Executive added:

'This very timely report highlights how, despite huge increases in life expectancy, the gap between rich and poor is increasing for the first time since the 1870s. This trend is particularly worrying for society and policymakers must do more to begin to narrow this gap again. Preventing inequalities in ill health and disability must be a priority for policy action'.

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