Many countries face similar health and welfare challenges and have similar goals. International comparisons provide a global view and allow lessons to be shared across countries.

The results provided here show how Australia compares with member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Most OECD members are high-income economies and are regarded as developed countries. Due to these similarities, OECD countries provide a useful basis for comparisons with Australia.

There is a lot of good news on the health front in Australia—we have one of the highest life expectancies in the developed world, and our overall burden of diseases has fallen. The vast majority (85%) of us rate our health as ‘good’ or better—internationally we are one of the leading countries on this measure.

When ranked against other OECD countries, we rate better than average for low birthweight, infant mortality, mortality from coronary heart disease, cancers and suicide, and we have one of the lowest rates of tobacco smoking.

However, we rank in the ‘worst third’ of OECD countries for overweight/obesity among girls (‘middle third’ for boys) and also the ‘worst third’ for obesity among people aged 15 and over, and we consume more litres of alcohol per person a year than the OECD average.

Similarly, there are mixed results for Australia on selected welfare/wellbeing measures. Australia ranks 6th out of 34 OECD countries for attainment of tertiary qualifications among 25–64 year olds, but is behind many other participating OECD countries in international reading, maths and science surveys for primary and second school students.

Using OECD definitions, Australia spends more on health (as a proportion of its gross domestic product) that the OECD average—9.7% compared with 9.1%.

OECD data for 2013 show that welfare expenditure in Australia was 12.8% of GDP. This was lower than the OECD median of 17.1% and puts Australia’s expenditure in the lowest quarter of all OECD countries [1]. Note, however, that there are many limitations in comparing countries in relation to welfare spending. Social support structures in many countries are complex and not necessarily comparable.

It is important to note that, given their complexities, there is no single indicator or measure that can adequately summarise the health or welfare of a person or population. While it is useful to compare health and welfare on an international scale, comparisons of this nature are complex due to the diverse nature of the sectors, the data sources and definitions across countries.

The AIHW maintains the Australian section of OECD Health Data, which is the most comprehensive source of comparable statistics on health and health systems across industrialised countries. The database contains information on health status, health care services and health care spending for member countries.

Information from OECD Health Data facilitates international comparative reporting, supports policy planning and decision making, and enables health-related research and analysis.

Most Australian data supplied for inclusion in OECD Health Data come from databases maintained by the AIHW, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services.

For further information, see the OECD Health Statistics online database.


  1. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ) 2017. OECD.StatExtracts. Social expenditure aggregated data. Paris: OECD. Viewed 11 February 2017.