Key findings

  • In 2019, the death rate among those aged 15–24 was 41 per 100,000 young people (or 1,300 deaths); it was more than twice as high for males as for females (57 and 23 per 100,000, respectively).
  • The leading causes of death for young people were injuries, cancer, and diseases of the nervous system.
  • Between 1999 and 2019, the death rate for young people dropped by 44% from 72 to 41 deaths per 100,000.

Death rates and causes of death are well established and key indicators of the health status of a population. Cause-specific death statistics provide insights into the events that contribute to deaths and the burden of disease (AIHW 2021).

The causes of death among young people differ from those among older age groups as deaths due to chronic conditions are less prevalent for young people (AIHW 2018). Changes in the pattern of causes of death can result from changes in behaviour, exposure to disease or injury, and social and environmental circumstances, as well as data coding practices (AIHW 2018).

Box 1: Data sources on deaths

Deaths data are sourced from the AIHW National Mortality Database (NMD). The database comprises information about causes of death and other characteristics of the person, such as sex, age at death, area of usual residence and Indigenous status. These data are collected in Australia by the Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages in each state and territory. The data are then compiled nationally by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and supplemented with information from the National Coroners Information Service. The ABS codes the data according to the International Classification of Diseases and provides the data for the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW’s) National Mortality Database. For more information on deaths, including adjustments for Victorian additional death registrations in 2019 see Technical notes).

How many young people die each year?

In 2019, among young people aged 15–24:

  • there were about 1,300 deaths—a rate of 41 per 100,000 young people. The death rate was more than twice as high for males (57 per 100,000 males or 946 deaths) as for females (23 per 100,000 females or 370 deaths) (Figure 1)
  • the death rate for those aged 20–24 (48 per 100,000 young people or 834 deaths) was 1.5 times as high as that for those aged 15–19 (32 per 100,000 or 482 deaths)
  • the rate for male deaths was higher across both age groups: 2.3 times as high for the 15–19 age group, and 2.5 times as high for the 20–24 age group.

Figure 1: Deaths among young people aged 15–24, by age and sex, 2019

The bar chart shows that the mortality rate among young males is higher than females for both those aged 15–19 and 20–24.

Note: These data have not been adjusted for Victorian additional death registrations in 2019. See Technical notes for more details.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: AIHW NMD.

What are the leading causes of deaths among young people?

Over the 3-year period 2017–2019, the leading causes of deaths among young people aged 15–24 were:

  • injuries (including intentional and unintentional)—73% or a rate of 27 per 100,000 young people)
  • all cancers (8.1% or a rate of 3.0 per 100,000)
  • diseases of the nervous system (which include cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy among others) (4.6% or a rate of 1.7 per 100,000).

In 2017–2019, just over half of all injuries (54%) were intentional injuries, 43% were unintentional, with the remaining 3.8% classified as other (including undetermined intent). Suicide was the leading single cause of death, and accounted for 37% of all deaths (AIHW 2021). See also Unintentional injuries. For intentional self‑harm injuries, see Mental illness and for homicides see Crime and violence.

The 3 leading causes of deaths were the same for males and females; however, the rate for:

  • injury was more than 3 times as high for males as females (40 per 100,000 males and 13 per 100,000 females) (Figure 2)
  • cancer was a little higher among males than females (3.3 per 100,000 males and 2.6 per 100,000 females)
  • diseases of the nervous system were higher among males (2.0 per 100,000 males) than females (1.4 per 100,000 females).

Across the age groups 15–19 and 20–24, injuries, cancer and diseases of the nervous system were again the 3 leading causes of death:

  • Injury deaths were 1.4 times as high among those aged 20–24 (31 per 100,000 young people) as among those aged 15–19 (22 per 100,000).
  • Cancer deaths were a little higher among those aged 20–24 compared with those aged 15–19 (3.1 and 2.8 per 100,000, respectively).
  • Deaths due to diseases of the nervous system were similar for both age groups (1.8 per 100,000 for those aged 15–19 and 1.6 per 100,000 for
    those aged 20–24).

Figure 2: Leading causes of deaths among young people (aged 15–24), by sex, 2017-2019

The stacked bar chart shows that the three leading causes of death were the same for males and females: injuries including drowning, all cancers and diseases of the nervous system.

(a) Congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities.
Note: These data have been adjusted for Victorian additional death registrations in 2019. See Technical notes for more details.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: AIHW NMD.

Has the death rate for young people changed over time?

Between 1999 and 2019, among young people aged 15–24:

  • the death rate fell by 44%, from 72 deaths per 100,000 young people in 1999 to 41 deaths per 100,000 in 2019
  • the rate fell for both males (down 46%, from 105 to 57 per 100,000) and females (down 39%, from 38 to 23)
  • the rate fell by 45% across both age groups: for those aged 15–19, from 59 to 32 deaths per 100,000; for those aged 20–24, 86 to 48 deaths per 100,000.

Based on rate differences for 1999 and 2019:

  • the largest percentage decreases occurred among males aged 20–24 (down 48%, from 128 to 67 per 100,000 males) and males aged 15–19 (down 46%, from 83 to 44 per 100,000) (Figure 3)
  • the rate for females aged 15–19 decreased by 44% (from 34 to 19 per 100,000 females); for those aged 20–24, it decreased by 36% (from 42 to 27 per 100,000)
  • the rate has consistently been highest for males aged 20–24, followed by males aged 15–19.

Figure 3: Death rates (ages 15–24), by age and sex, 1999 to 2019

The line chart shows that the mortality rate among males and females aged 15–19 and 20–24 has decreased over time, with males consistently higher than females. The largest percentage decreases occurred for males of both age groups.

Note: These data have not been adjusted for Victorian additional death registrations in 2019. Time series for 2017–2019 should be treated with caution. See Technical notes for more details.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: AIHW NMD.

Is it the same for everyone?

In 2019, among young people aged 15–24, death rates varied across birthplace, remoteness and socioeconomic areas. The rate was:

  • 1.5 times as high among Australian-born young people (44 per 100,000 compared with those born overseas (30 per 100,000) (Figure 4)
  • 3.3 times as high in Remote and very remote areas (110 per 100,000) compared with Major cities (34 per 100,000)
  • 1.9 times as high in the lowest socioeconomic areas (52 per 100,000) compared with the highest socioeconomic areas (27 per 100,000).

Figure 4: Deaths of young people aged 15–24, by selected population groups, 2019

The bar chart shows that the mortality rate among young people increased with remoteness, with the highest in Remote and very remote areas (110 per 100,000), and was higher for those in the lowest socioeconomic areas (52 per 100,000) and for those born in Australia (44 per 100,000).

Note: These data have not been adjusted for Victorian additional death registrations in 2019. See Technical notes for more details.
Chart: AIHW.
Source: AIHW NMD.

How does Australia’s youth death rate compare internationally?

Based on data from the World Health Organization for years 2013 to 2016, Australia’s mortality rate among young people aged 15–24 was around the mid‑way mark—20th of 38 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries at 37 per 100,000 young people (Figure 5).

Mortality rates were:

  • lowest in Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands (22, 23.5 and 23.8 per 100,000, respectively)
  • highest in Mexico and Columbia (89 and 117 per 100,000, respectively).

Figure 5: Deaths among young people aged 15–24, by selected OECD countries, 2013–2016

This bar chart shows that the mortality rate of young people in Australia (37 per 100,000), is between that of the United Kingdom (31 per 100,000), and Ireland (39 per 100,000), and is the 20th lowest out of 38 OECD countries.

Notes:

  1. Data were from the following years: 2016 for the Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States of America; 2015 for Spain, Denmark, Australia, Mexico and Columbia; 2014 for Ireland; 2013 for Canada and New Zealand.
  2. Selected countries include only OECD main English-speaking countries for comparison.

Chart: AIHW.
Source: World Health Organization.

Where do I find more information?

For information on topics related to injury deaths in Australia’s youth, see:

For information on Indigenous young people and deaths, see:

For information on children and deaths, see:

For further detailed information on:

 


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