Life expectancy is an indication of how many years a person can expect to live, assuming death rates do not change. The term 'health expectancy' is used to describe, within a person's life expectancy, the expected years spent in various health states from birth to death, such as years with disability.
However, disability does not necessarily equate to poor health or illness. Expected years with disability should not be considered as being of less value than 'health' years (without disability).
Life expectancy in Australia has risen markedly since the beginning of the twentieth century. For policy development, service planning, and population health and wellbeing, it is important to know whether the extra years in life expectancy at birth and at older ages are healthy or are marked by increasing disability and dependence.
In short, older Australians are living longer and, on average, getting more years of life without severe or profound limitation in basic daily activities than with it. On the other hand, the ageing of the Australian population and the increasing longevity of people are leading to a greater number of older people with disability and severe or profound activity limitation.
Australians are living longer and getting more disability-free years
Between 1998 and 2009, almost all of the increase in life expectancy at birth, for both males and females, was disability-free years. The expected years of life with disability and severe or profound limitation in activities of self-care, mobility and communication remained stable for both sexes. Overall life expectancy at birth rose from 75.9 years to 79.3 years for males and from 81.5 years to 83.9 years for females.
Females could expect to live longer and live more years both with and without disability compared to males. Australian boys born in 2009 could expect to live an average 61.6 years without disability and another 17.7 years with disability, including 5.5 years with severe or profound activity limitation. Girls born in 2009 could expect to live an average 64.3 years without disability and another 19.6 years with disability, including 7.5 years with severe or profound activity limitation.