Japanese Women Extend Life Expectancy To New High

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TOKYO — Japanese women are expected to live almost 86 1/2 years, topping the world longevity ratings for the 25th straight year, the government reported Monday.

The statistics for 2009 compiled and published by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed both Japanese women and men extended their average life expectancy to new records – 86.44 years for women and 79.59 years for men. Average life spans rose by almost five months for women and nearly four months for men compared to the previous year.

Japanese men, however, saw their average life expectancy slip to fifth from fourth in the world ranking, according to a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

Long life is usually good news. But in a country with a low birth rate and declining population, longer life expectancies mean a disproportionately large elderly population. The graying of society is expected in the near future to strain government services and pension programs, while causing labor shortages.

The steady increase in Japan's longevity largely reflects good medical treatment that reduced the mortality from cancer, cardiac disorders and strokes – the three main causes of death in Japan – as well as pneumonia, the ministry official said. Health officials often cite Japan's relatively healthy diet and high living standards as contributing to growing longevity.

But an increasing number of suicides among elderly men dealt a slight setback for male longevity, he said. Suicide, crime and alcoholism among the elderly have become growing problems because of low income and unstable employment.

Women in Hong Kong came in second in the world's longevity ranking at 86.1 years. France was third, at 84.5, followed by Switzerland at 84.4 years. Qatar topped the men's ranking at 81 years, followed by Hong Kong at 79.8 years, with Iceland and Switzerland sharing the third spot at 79.7 years.

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