Golden Years Get Longer

Life expectancy among employees at big U.S. companies improved significantly in recent years, but men continued to post bigger gains than women--a trend that first surfaced in the late 1970s. That's the finding of a recent study by Buck Consultants Inc. of 875,000 active and retired workers at two dozen of its major corporate clients.

According to Buck, the life expectancy of a typical 65-year-old male worker has jumped by a remarkable 15 months over the past six years, compared with a gain of 9 1/2 months for women. Despite recent male gains, 65-year-old women can still expect to live longer--to nearly 87, according to the Buck data, compared with 83 for men. (Similar but smaller gains have been posted by the U.S. population as a whole.)

Why are men posting bigger increases in life expectancy after lagging behind women's gains during most of this century? One theory is that the latter-day smoking habits of women are catching up to them at a time when men are benefiting from medical advances and more emphasis on personal fitness. Whatever the reason, however, the lengthening lives of older Americans underscore the need to rethink the nation's retirement system in the decades ahead.

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