For 26 years Japanese women have been blessed with the world’s longest life expectancy, being able to look forward to an average age of 86.3 years.
But last year they lost their longevity crown, and the Japanese government has blamed the 2011 earthquake and tsunami for the drop.
The health and labour ministry said the disaster, which left nearly 20,000 dead or missing, was mainly behind a decline in average lifespan to 85.9 years.
A rise in suicides after the disaster was also partially to blame.
Advances in health care and falling birth rates in Japan – the world’s 10th most populous nation – has made it one of the world’s oldest and fastest ageing societies.
The trend has been particularly pronounced in the northeast, where – even before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami – scarcity of jobs had been driving young people away.
The health and labour ministry said many of the victims of the disaster were elderly residents who stayed behind.
Hong Kong women now hold the honour of having the longest life expectancy, with the average Hong Kong woman living 86.70 years.
The Japanese government’s annual report, released today, noted that Hong Kong women would have overtaken their Japanese counterparts even if Japan’s life expectancy averages stayed at previous levels.
The life expectancy for Japanese men also declined slightly, from 79.55 to 79.44, leaving them tied for seventh place with Italians. Swiss men led the longevity rankings with average expectancy of 80.2 years.
The Japanese report used statistics supplied by a range of countries and the U.N. for its comparisons, taking an average of their averages.
The report noted that international statistics were hard to compare because of differences in calculation methods.
For example, the CIA – which monitors life expectancy around the world for its annual World Factbook – has Monaco (89.68) and Macau (84.43) above Japan (83.91) for this year.
According to the CIA, Hong Kong comes in at eighth place (82.12), while the UK comes in at No.30 (80.17) and the U.S. ranks No.50 (78.49).
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