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At the beginning of the 20th Century, life expectancy at birth was approximately 55 years for males and 59 years for females. Over the period 1901-2000, life expectancy at birth increased by 21.4 years for males and 23.3 years for females.
However, the rate of growth in life expectancy over the century was not constant. This is illustrated in the following figure and table, which show life expectancies at birth since the early 20th Century. For example, life expectancies at birth increased steadily in the first half of the century. This was partly due to the continuation of factors which improved health in the 19th Century: eradication of infectious disease, improving public hygiene and rising living standards. This is illustrated by the fact that, during this period, life expectancy at birth saw much greater gains than life expectancy at age 65, suggesting more children were surviving into adulthood, as opposed to people simply living longer. Male life expectancy at birth actually decreased slightly in the mid-1960s, mainly because death rates from circulatory disease were particularly high during this period.
After a relative plateau in the 1960s, life expectancy has been steadily increasing since the 1970s. This includes life expectancy at age 65, suggesting that most of these gains are through people living longer (as opposed to childhood survival). Indeed, between 1970 and 2004, reductions in mortality for the over-50s contributed 70% and 73% to the increase in male and female life expectancy respectively (ABS 2006 cat. no. 4102.0). Thus, increasing life expectancy is presently closely tied to population ageing.
Sources: ABS Cat No. 3302.0; ABS Cat. No. 3105.0.65.001
Sources: ABS Cat. No. 3302.0; ABS Cat. No. 3105.0.65.001.