Men’s life expectancy has increased more than women’s since the 1990s and they are less likely to be afflicted by disability in old age, research has shown.

Between 1991 and 2011, the remaining lifespan of women aged 65 in England went up by 3.6 years, and that of men by 4.5 years.

While for women the amount of time spent coping with moderate or severe disability had increased by seven months, and with mild disability by 2.5 years, the same trend was not seen in men.

Men had only 1.3 more years of mild disability and saw no increase at all in the length of time they were affected by moderate or severe disability.

World Health Organisation figures for 2011 put life expectancy figures for men in the UK at 78.8 years and 82.7 years for women.

Carol Jagger, from the University of Newcastle, who led the research published in The Lancet medical journal, said: “The big unanswered question is whether our extra years of life are healthy ones and the aim of our research was to investigate how health expectancies at age 65 years and over changed between 1991 and 2011.

The big unanswered question is whether our extra years of life are healthy ones

“One possibility for the increased years women are living with mild disability might be the rise in obesity levels over the decades, but there may also be particular conditions, or just more multiple diseases, which are a feature of very old age.”

The team compared two rounds of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study, conducted in England in 1991 and 2011. A total of 7,635 people aged 65 and over took part in the research in Newcastle, Cambridge and Nottingham.

Jagger added: “Our findings have important implications for Government, employees and individuals with respect to raising the state pension age and extending working life.

“It is also necessary for community care services and family carers who predominantly support those with mild to moderate disability to enable them to continue living independently.”

In most developed countries worldwide, life expectancy is increasing at the rate of at least two years every decade. For those aged 60, there is no sign of it slowing down.

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