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The average life expectancy for males is six years less than for females

According to our 1985–87 complete life tables, life expectancy at birth was 77.1 years for females and 71.1 years for males – that's a gap of exactly six years. But how do those figures compare with today’s?

Statistics New Zealand has been calculating the life expectancy of New Zealand’s total population since 1950–52. In the half-century between 1950–52 and 2000–02, life expectancy at birth increased from 71.3 to 81.1 years for females, and from 67.2 to 76.3 years for males. Around a decade later, this has increased to 82.8 years for females and 79.1 years for males. This means that, on average, women can now expect to live just 3.7 years longer than males.

Conclusion

This myth is busted; the information is out of date.

While female life expectancy has always been higher than male life expectancy, the gap between the sexes has closed in recent years. The gap between male and female life expectancy was about six years between 1965 and 1990 (peaking at 6.4 years in 1975–77). Since then, male life expectancy has increased at a faster rate than female life expectancy. The life tables for 2000–02 showed the gap narrowing to 4.8 years. By 2005–07, it had closed to a mere 4.1 years.

So it's good news all round, as life expectancy for both sexes is increasing. If you’re male, the news is even better – the gap between male and female life expectancy is closing.

What is a life table?

A life table is a numerical summary of the mortality experience of a population. We start with age-specific death rates (that’s deaths at each age divided by the mean population at each age). Then, starting with a hypothetical population of 100,000, we carry out a series of calculations to produce a range of mortality measures. The most commonly used component of a life table is life expectancy at birth, although life expectancy is calculated for each year of life. For example, in 2000–02 New Zealanders aged 35 could expect to live another 47 years if female and 43 years if male.

Some interesting facts about life expectancy

Our statistics related to life expectancy show us that:

  • Male life expectancy decreased between 1960–62 and 1965–67 (from 68.4 to 68.2 years).
  • Smoking rates in New Zealand peaked in 1963.
  • Up until the 1970s, life expectancy at one year of age was higher than at birth.
  • In the decade 1990–2000, life expectancy increased 2.4 years for females and 3.4 years for males.
  • The primary cause of increasing life expectancy was a reduction in infant mortality between 1920 and 1970, but more recently it has been due to improving longevity.

For your information

How long will I live? 
Use our New Zealand life expectancy calculator to estimate how long you’ll live.

Life expectancy 
Information about life expectancy, and the probability of death and survival at various ages. Tables are constructed from registrations of births and deaths, and population estimates.

Published 22 June 2012, based on information previously published on 17 April 2007.

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