Personal choices more than differences in wealth may be defining the growing life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor in both England and Wales.

People are living longer than their ancestors, but when the lifespan of the poor is compared to the rich, it seems the latter had it better.

These are the findings by Cass Business School, which analyzed the age differences between oldest 5 percent survivors and youngest 10 percent of adult deaths in England and Wales.

Using the data from Human Mortality Database, for men over 30 who died in 2010, the average ages for oldest 5 percent and youngest 10 percent were almost 96 and more than 62 years, respectively, yielding a gap of 33 years.

Among the females within the same relative age and period, oldest 5 percent had an average age of more than 98, youngest 10 percent, 67. That's a gap of 31 years.

The males, nevertheless, tend to be the worse lot since the longevity gap has already expanded by 1.7 years since 1993, when it was at its narrowest.

It hasn't been this case since the beginning as the gap steadily became narrower during the periods of 1870 to 1939. After 1950, following the Second World War, the gap grew further as life expectancy also increased.

What could have been causing this widening gap? The research believes it has something to do with poor lifestyle choices.

"Many of the big gains from public health improvements are in the past and personal choices are now much more important. Most deaths today are from age related chronic diseases and so individual life choices are more significant," said [PDF] the report.

The report further suggests that those in the poorer strata, especially men, are more likely to engage in unhealthy habits.

"Men in lower socio-economic groups are the most likely to make damaging life-style choices," said the report, adding that they are more prone to smoking and drinking more often than the women. When it comes to doing riskier activities, it's the men who may also be the more vulnerable.

Although the report doesn't discount the fact that income may also be playing a role, the damaging effect may be more cumulative as the poorer people continue with their unhealthy lifestyle for years.

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