Men closing life expectancy gap, Statscan says

Globe and Mail Update

Although women have traditionally enjoyed longer lives, men appear to be gaining ground, a recent study suggests. Among other disease-related explanations, lung cancer is believed to be a major factor in narrowing the gap, according to a Statistics Canada spokeswoman. "One of the significant reasons for the decrease is that women's mortality rate from lung cancer is climbing," says Patricia Tully, senior analyst for Statistics Canada.

In 1979, the male death rate as a result of lung cancer was 72 per 100,000. By 1999, that number had dropped to 70. There has been a significantly lower rate of lung cancer victims among women but numbers have jumped to a peak of 35 deaths per 100,000 in 1999, compared with 16 in 1979, Ms. Tully says. According to the report, a man born in 1999 could expect to live 76.3 years whereas a woman's life expectancy at birth is 81.7 years.

Over the past two decades the gender gap has been closing. Between 1979 to 1999 the life expectancy for women climbed 2.9 per cent, while the lifetime duration of men improved a substantial 4.9 years. The study points to the infant mortality rate as another explanation for the diminishing gap. Since 1993 there has been a 16 per cent drop in infant deaths.

Diseases of the circulatory system are the leading causes of death at 36 per cent. Within the last 20 years the number of deaths as result of circulatory diseases in women dropped by 18 per cent. The number of deaths for men within the same time frame dropped by 45 per cent. Although men have always suffered a larger mortality rate from these diseases than woman, Ms. Tully says the significant improvement seen in men partially accounts for the gender gap decrease.

Cancer was the second leading killer at 28 per cent, claiming the lives of 61,650 people. However the mortality rates for female breast cancer fell for the third straight year. There was similar good news for men as mortality rates for prostate cancer fell for the fourth consecutive year.

The report also shows the number of HIV-related deaths down 11 per cent to 431 in 1999 the lowest level since Canada began classifying them in 1987. The number of men who died from the infection dropped 12 per cent to 365 in 1999, while 66 women died, down 6 per cent.

Deaths reported as suicides were up a sharp 10 per cent for both sexes in 1999 with four suicides among men for every suicide among women.