People in Australia are living longer. Our state of health in later years has important implications for population health and for Australia’s health and care systems.
Life expectancy is a valuable indicator of overall population health. It measures how many years, on average, a person at any given age can expect to live. However, life expectancy alone cannot provide insight into people’s state of health during those years. For this reason, ‘health expectancy’ measures are often also used.
Health expectancy is a general term describing the expected years a person will spend in various health states – in this section, the estimated years spent living with and without disability.
Overall, the disability-free life expectancy of people in Australia – the estimated years we can expect to live without disability – has increased in recent years.
How do we measure life and health expectancy?
Life expectancy is one of the most common ways to measure and assess the population’s overall health. It is expressed as the:
- number of years a newborn baby is expected to live, or
- expected years of life remaining for a person at a given age.
Life expectancy is estimated from population death rates. It is the expected number of years of life left for a person at a particular age if death rates do not change. For more information on life expectancy, see Life expectancy and deaths.
The estimates of health expectancies presented in this section are expressed using 4 main measures. These are the expected years of life lived:
- with disability (all levels)
- with severe or profound disability (a subset of years of life with disability)
- without disability (all levels) – a subset of years of life without severe or profound disability
- without severe or profound disability.
These estimates have been calculated using the Sullivan Method (Sullivan 1971). Health expectancies calculated using this method are the average number of remaining years, at a particular age, a population can expect to live with different levels of disability or without disability.
For more information see, Life expectancy and disability in Australia: appendixes A–C. In this section, unpublished ABS abridged life tables are used with unpublished age- and sex-specific disability prevalence rates from the ABS SDAC.
It is important to note that disability does not necessarily equate to poor health or illness. Also, expected years living with disability should not be considered as being of less value than years without disability. For example, in the early stages of disability associated with paraplegia, a person might also experience poor health, but once their condition is stable, they might enjoy good health, particularly if they can participate in many life areas.
Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers
Data in this section are largely sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The SDAC is the most detailed and comprehensive source of data on disability prevalence in Australia.
The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least one of a list of limitations, restrictions or impairments, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities.
The limitations are grouped into 10 activities associated with daily living – self-care, mobility, communication, cognitive or emotional tasks, health care, reading or writing tasks, transport, household chores, property maintenance, and meal preparation. The SDAC also identifies 2 other life areas in which people may experience restriction or difficulty as a result of disability – schooling and employment.
The severity of disability is defined by whether a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with 3 core activities – self-care, mobility, and communication – and is grouped for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation. People who always or sometimes need help with one or more core activities, have difficulty understanding or being understood by family or friends, or can communicate more easily using sign language or other non-spoken forms of communication are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.
Boys born in 2018 can expect to live an average of around 81 years. Of this time, an estimated:
- 64 years will be lived free of disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.1)
- 17 years will be with some level of disability, including around 5.5 years with severe or profound disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.2).
Girls born in 2018 can expect to live an average of around 85 years. Of this time, an estimated:
- 66 years will be lived free of disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.1)
- 19 years will be with some level of disability, including around 7.2 years with severe or profound disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.2).
For people born in 2018, this equates to living around one-fifth of their life with some level of disability (21% for males and 22% for females).