Korean women can now expect to live 83.8 years, the sixth longest among the 32 OECD member countries. But life expectancy for Korean men is only 20th on the list.
According to analysis of OECD health data by the OECD/Korea Policy Centre on Tuesday, Korean women's life expectancy surged 13 notches in 2009, up from 19th place in 2003, when it stood at 80.8 years.
Japanese people live the longest, followed by Spaniards, Swiss, French and Australians. Canada and Italy did not submit data.
Compared to 53.7 years in 1960, the life expectancy of Korean women rose the fastest in the OECD. The gap with Japanese women shrank from 16.5 years to a mere 2.6 years in 2009.
Although cancer rates among Korean women rose, the death rate has fallen and many people take care of their health through exercise, said Prof. Lee Sun-hee of Ewha Womans University's College of Medicine. Korea also has a much higher proportion of people who see doctors when they have health problems than in other countries, she added.
Meanwhile, the life expectancy of Korean men is 76.8 years, and 3.1 years shorter than that of Swiss men, who live longest. The gap in life expectancy between Korean men and women is seven years, higher than the OECD average of 5.6 years. Due to drinking, smoking and stress, Korean men are twice likelier to die of cancer than women, said Prof. Kim Kwang-gi at Inje University's Graduate School of Public Health.
In terms of overall life expectancy, Korea climbed four notches from 2007 to 16th place with 80.3 years, the same as Germany and Greece. Japan took the No. 1 spot with 83 years, followed by Switzerland (82.3), Spain (81.8), Australia and Israel (81.6) and Iceland (81.5).
Meanwhile, a survey by Statistics Korea for the Chosun Ilbo of 247,000 people who died in 2009 at the age of 60 or over shows they died at an average age of 77.5. Women lived longer with 80.2 years than men with 74.9 years. The gap is similar to that of a decade ago, when women lived on average 78.4 years and men 73.2.
An official with Statistics Korea attributed the higher life expectancy to the early detection and treatment of three major diseases -- cancer, cerebrovascular and heart diseases -- which are responsible for half of all deaths.