Japanese women lost the title of highest life expectancy to Hong Kong this year after 26 years at the top of the rankings, according to Reuters.
The Japanese government made the announcement on Thursday, blaming last year's earthquake and tsunami for the drop. The health and labor ministry said the 20,000 death toll was behind a 0.4 year decline in the average lifespan, dropping the life expectancy for women in Japan to 85.90, Reuters said.
The annual report said the decline was mainly due to natural causes of death, and the life expectancy for Japanese men also declined slightly, from 79.55 to 79.44, according to the Associated Press.
The report noted that if deaths related to the earthquake and tsunami had not been included, the life expectancies would have been 79.70 years for men and 86.24 years for women.
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The Guardian noted that a large number of the victims in the disaster were elderly. Statistics from the national police agency show that more than 56 percent of those who died were 65 years or older, and nearly three-quarters of those missing were over 60.
Small towns and fishing communities with ageing populations were disproportionately affected by the tsunami, with many victims unable to flee as the waves swept in, said the Guardian.
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The report also said a high number of suicides played a role in the drop in women's life expectancy. The number of suicides in Japan exceeded 30,000 last year, and suicide rates among women have risen though they have fallen among men.
Reuters noted that as a result of health care advances and a slow birth rate, Japan has become one of the world's oldest and fastest ageing populations.