The difference in life expectancy between the sexes is narrowing as modern women spend their lives juggling work and family, official figures showed yesterday.

While women are still likely to live around four years longer on average, the adoption by many of stressful working lifestyles indistinguishable from those of men appears to have taken a toll.

A study found that the lifespans of men in England and Wales are fast catching up with the best in the world, and are likely to go on increasing.

The report from the Office for National Statistics said its findings "show the potential for future rises in life expectancy" for men.

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"Females do not appear to be doing as well relative to other countries as their male counterparts," it added.

The ONS found that life expectancy for a newborn girl in leading developed countries has always been higher than that of boys. But for women "increases over the years since 1980 have mostly been smaller than those seen for males".

The life expectancy gap between men and women was less than four years for those born in 1912, but began to widen after the First World War. It was at its widest 1972, when girls born in England and Wales could expect to live 6.25 years longer than boys.

By 1982 the gap had narrowed to under six years. In 2002, it was under five years, and by 2012 it was down to 3.83 years - almost exactly the same as 100 years earlier. Men born in 2012 can expect to live for 78.97 years while women can expect to live for 82.80 years.

The narrowing of the gap follows growing evidence that the advance of a high proportion of women into higher education and demanding jobs, alongside the stress of combining a job with raising children, has had an effect on life expectancy.

At the same time, men's health has been greatly improved not only by medical advances and the collapse in numbers who smoke, but also by the decline of heavy industry and the dangerous and physically punishing jobs that went with it. The ONS said last year that "increases in women entering the labour force over the last 50 years are considered to have had an impact on levels of stress, smoking and drinking, leading to changes in the health of females."

The English Life Tables released yesterday chart changes in life expectancy as far back as the dawn of the Victorian era.

They show how the lifespans of both men and women have almost doubled since the industrial revolution was at its height in the 1840s.

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The study said: "The larger increases seen in the first half of the 20th century are mostly because of the reduction in infant and childhood mortality, while the increases since 1950 are mainly driven by improvements in mortality at older ages."

In comparison to seven selected western countries, men in England and Wales are moving closer to the longest-lived - in Iceland, Japan and Australia. Women's life expectancy remains second lowest, ahead only of the US.

- Daily Mail