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Life expectancy of men catching up with women in Finland

Average life expectancy at birth was 5.5 years longer for women than men last year, but it's still an improvement on the nine-year gap that existed in the 1970s.

Vauva äidin rintaa vasten.
A newborn baby. Image: Riikka Pennanen / Yle

In 2017, the average life expectancy at birth for boys was 78.7 years and 84.2 years for girls, according to new figures from the state-owned number cruncher Statistics Finland. Last year's numbers indicate a year-on-year improvement of 0.3 years for males and 0.1 years for females.

Life expectancy is an age-standardised indicator that describes mortality levels among various populations. Finnish figures for 2017 demonstrate a 5.5 year gap between the sexes, but this disparity is improving in Finland, as a nine-year gap in life expectancy was recorded just forty-odd years ago.

In the last thirty years, life expectancy in Finland has risen steadily and substantially, lengthening the life expectancy of men by 8 years and women by 5.5. years, on average.

Finland has regional variance in life expectancy, and these differences are more pronounced for males than females.

From 2015 to 2017, the life expectancy of newborn boys was longest in the western region of Central Ostrobothnia, at 80.6 years, and shortest in north-eastern Kainuu, at 76.6 years, resulting in a four-year regional difference.

The life expectancy of newborn girls for this period was calculated as longest in Ostrobothnia, at 85.3 years, and shortest in the southern region of Päijät-Häme, at 83.4 years. The regional difference for women born in Finland is therefore smaller, at only 1.8 years.

Statistics Finland figures suggest that women live longer in urban areas than rural communities.

Swedish speakers live longer

Native language also seems to have an effect. Life expectancy data from 2015-2017 for boys that speak Swedish as their mother tongue shows that they will live to the age of 80.7 years, two years longer than boys who speak Finnish as their mother tongue.

For girls in that time period, there is a similar gap, although it is less pronounced. Female babies born in 2015-2017 have a life expectancy of 85 years if they speak Swedish as a mother tongue, while Finnish speakers live to the age of 84.2.

Over the last 30 years, Finnish women have reached the same level of life expectancy as those in Sweden and Norway, and Danish women's life expectancy has stayed at a lower level.

Statistics Finland reports that Finnish men had the shortest life expectancy in the Nordic countries in the 1980s, but now Finnish and Danish male life expectancy is tied at around 78 years. Both are about two years shorter than male life expectancy in Sweden and Norway.

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