Life expectancy is one of the most commonly used measures of overall health of a population. It is expressed as either the number of years a newborn baby is expected to live, or the expected years of life remaining for a person at a given age, and is estimated from the death rates in a population. Examining causes, patterns and trends in death can also help explain differences and changes in the health of a population, contribute to the evaluation of health strategies and interventions, and guide planning and policy-making.
Australia enjoys one of the highest life expectancies in the world – 83.2 years in 2021 for males and females at birth combined – and ranks fifth out of 38 countries among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries on this measure. Despite this, not all Australians fare equally well in terms of their health and longevity; for example, people living in rural and remote areas tend to have lower life expectancy and higher rates of disease and injury than people living in Major cities, and there are significant health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Life expectancy is related to the average age at death within a population and is inversely related to the population death rates at that time; that is, the lower the death rates the greater the life expectancy. High life expectancy is often associated with low infant and child death rates, and access to high quality health care.
Death statistics are often based on the underlying cause of death only – that is, the disease or injury that initiated the train of events leading directly to death, or the circumstances of the accident or violence that resulted in the fatal injury.
Coronary heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia, followed by dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, cerebrovascular disease (including stroke), lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The leading underlying causes of death are different at different ages, and by sex. In 2021, the leading cause of death for males was coronary heart disease, and for females, it was dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic diseases are more common causes of death among people aged 45 and over, while land transport accidents and suicides are leading causes among people aged 1–44.
Associated causes of death refer to causes that contributed to the death, other than the underlying cause of death. They include the immediate cause, intervening causes, and conditions which contributed to the death but were not related to the disease or condition causing the death. Analyses using associated causes of death may offer insight into the disease processes that occurred or, for injury-related deaths, the nature of the injury.
Multiple causes of death statistics are based on both the underlying and associated causes of death. Australians who die of chronic disease often have more than 1 cause of death recorded on their death certificate. For example, in 2019–2021, deaths due to coronary heart disease had 3.8 causes of death on average, deaths due to asthma had 4.1 and deaths due to diabetes had 5.5.
By examining differences over time in the number of people that die and their cause of death we can gain insight into the impact of changes in behaviours, exposures, and social and environmental circumstances.
See General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM) books for data on long-term trends by causes of death. The Mortality Over Regions and Time (MORT) books provide deaths statistics by geographical areas for 2017–2021.
In 2021, there were 171,469 deaths registered in Australia
In 2021, the leading cause of death for males was coronary heart disease (12%)
In 2021, the leading cause of death for females was dementia including Alzheimer’s disease (13%)
During 1967–2021, life expectancy increased by 13.7 years for males (to 81.3) and by 11.2 years for females (to 85.4)
The median age at death increased by 11.5 years for males (to 79.6) and 10.9 years for females (to 84.9) in 1964–2021
Centenarian deaths increased from 1 in 1,214 deaths in 1964 to 1 in 72 deaths in 2021