The average life span of Japanese women reached 85.59 years in 2004, the 20th straight year as having the world’s highest longevity, according to data for 2004 released by the health ministry Friday.

The average length of life for Japanese women rose 0.26 year from 2003, extending the record set in previous years, Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry data on the “abridged life tables” for 2004 showed.

The tables show how long a population at specified ages is expected to live, provided that conditions conducive to death remain unchanged. The average length of life refers to life expectancy at birth.

Japanese men also set a new record to rank second in the world, with figures for their average length of life in 2004 rising from the year before by 0.28 year to an average of 78.64 years.

In worldwide rankings for men, Iceland remained on top with a life expectancy of 78.8 years between 2001 and 2004. Hong Kong ranked third, with an average male life span of 78.5 years in 2003, followed by Sweden and Switzerland.

Behind Japanese women are Hong Kong women, whose life expectancy was 84.3 years on average for 2003, followed by Switzerland and France.

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