Over the course of the 20th century the sex differential in life expectancy at birth in the industrialized countries has widened considerably in favour of women. Starting in the early 1970s, the beginning of a reversal in the long-term pattern of this differential has been noted in some high-income countries. This study documents a sustained pattern of narrowing of this measure into the later part of the 1990s for six of the populations that comprise the G7 countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, England and Wales (as representative of the United Kingdom) and USA. For Japan, a persistence of widening sex differences in survival is noted. The sex differences in life expectancy are decomposed over roughly three decades (early 1970s to late 1990s) from the point of view of four major cause-of-death categories: circulatory diseases, cancers, accidents/violence/suicide, and ‘other’ (residual) causes. In the six countries where the sex gap has narrowed, this has resulted primarily from reduced sex differences in circulatory disease mortality, and secondarily from reduced differences in male and female death rates due to accidents, violence and suicide combined. In some of the countries sex differentials in cancer mortality have been converging lately, and this has also contributed to a narrowing of the difference in life expectancy. In Japan, males have been less successful in reducing their survival disadvantage in relation to Japanese women with regard to circulatory disease and cancer; and in the case of accidents/violence/suicide, male death rates increased during the 1990s. These trends explain the divergent pattern of the sex difference in life expectation in Japan as compared with the other G7 nations.
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