These two charts show just how life expectancy is affected by rich-poor divide

The gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is growing for the first time since the 1870s, according to new research.

People are living longer but the gap between the longest and shortest lifespans appears to be increasing, academics from Cass Business School and the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) found.

Researchers blame the differences in lifestyle between socio-economic groups for the gap.

Based on data from the Human Mortality Database, professor of statistics Les Mayhew and Dr David Smith measured the differences in age between the earliest 10% of adult deaths and the top 5% of survivors.

The difference for men

Snappa graphic of lifespan of men

In England and Wales, 5% of men that have reached the age of 30 are living on average to 95.7, 33.3 years longer than the lowest 10%.

This gap grew by 1.7 years between 1993, when it was at its narrowest, and 2009.

The difference for women

Snappa graphic of lifespan of women

For women, the longest surviving are reaching 98.2, 31 years longer than the lowest. The female gap reached its narrowest in 2005, but has since levelled out.

Older people at a charity tea party in London.
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

Mayhew said that life expectancy grew and the gap between the richest and poorest narrowed in the first half of the 20th century as everyone benefited from improvements in clean drinking water, better housing, higher incomes and better health.

But after 1950, inequalities in lifespan persisted rather than narrowing further.

Older man sat on a bench looking out to sea
(Eyecandy Images/Thinkstock)

He said: "We found that since the 1990s lifespan inequalities in men have actually worsened in England and Wales.

"This is partly due to some men now living to exceptionally old ages and in many cases equalling women, but at the other end of the distribution there has been a lack of progress."

He added that the research suggested "the widening disparity on poor lifestyle choices" is to blame - especially smoking, drinking and poor diet that are more likely to be made by the poorest in society.

ILC-UK chief executive Sally Greengross said: "This very timely report highlights how, despite huge increases in life expectancy, the gap between rich and poor is increasing for the first time since the 1870s.

"This trend is particularly worrying for society and policymakers must do more to begin to narrow this gap again. Preventing inequalities in ill health and disability must be a priority for policy action."

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