Disability-free life expectancy

Children born in 2018

Girls born in 2018 can expect to live 22% (19 years) of their overall life expectancy with some level of disability. Boys born in 2018 can expect to live 21% (17 years) of their overall life expectancy with some level of disability.

Men aged 65

in 2018 can expect to live 53% (11 years) of their remaining lives with some level of disability.

Women aged 65

in 2018 can expect to live 54% (12 years) of their remaining lives with some level of disability.

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Introduction

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 the quality of life 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 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 AIHW 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 core activity limitation (a subset of years of life with disability)
  • without disability (all levels)
  • without severe or profound core activity limitation (a subset of years of life without 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 AIHW Life expectancy and disability in Australia: appendixes A–C. In this section, unpublished Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) abridged life tables are used with unpublished age- and sex-specific disability prevalence rates from the ABS' Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (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 do not require medical services and 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 disability prevalence in Australia.

The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least 1 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 if 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 1 or more core activities are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.


At birth

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).

Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.1: The number of years a person can expect to live without and with disability, by sex, for people born in 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018

Chart showing the average number of years at birth that males and females can expect to live without and with disability. The reader can select to display the chart by year, including 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018. The chart shows females, born in 2018, can expect to live 66 years without disability and 19 years with disability, compared with 64 and 17 years for males.

Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.2: The number of years a person can expect to live without and with severe or profound disability, by sex, for people born in 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018

Chart showing the average number of years at birth that males and females can expect to live without and with severe or profound disability. The reader can select to display the chart by year, including 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018. The chart shows females, born in 2018, can expect to live 78 years without severe or profound disability and 7 years with severe or profound disability, compared with 75 and 5.5 years for males.


At age 65

Focusing on health expectancy at age 65 is a useful measure for monitoring healthy ageing within the population.

Men aged 65 in 2018 can expect to live, on average, another:

  • 9.3 years without disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.3)
  • 11 years with some level of disability, including around 3.5 years with severe or profound disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.4).

Women aged 65 in 2018 can expect to live, on average, another:

  • 10 years without disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.3)
  • 12 years with some level of disability, including around 5.5 years with severe or profound disability (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.4).

For people aged 65 in 2018 this equates to living just over half of their remaining lives with some level of disability (53% for men and 54% for women).

Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.3: The number of years a person can expect to live without and with disability, by sex, for people aged 65 in 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018

Chart showing the number of years at age 65 that males and females can expect to live without and with disability. The reader can select to display the chart by year, including 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018. The chart shows females, aged 65 in 2018, can expect to live 10 years without disability and 12 years with disability, compared with 9 and 11 years for males.

Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.4: The number of years a person can expect to live without and with severe or profound disability, by sex, for people aged 65 in 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018

Chart showing the number of years at age 65 that males and females can expect to live without and with severe or profound disability. The reader can select to display the chart year, including 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018. The chart shows females, aged 65 in 2018, can expect to live 17 years without severe or profound disability and 5.5 years with severe or profound disability, compared with 16 and 3.5 years for males.


Throughout life and over time

It is no surprise that, as individuals age, the number of years they have without disability reduces. Over time, however, the number of estimated years living without disability at any age has increased for men and women (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.5).

Men aged:

  • 25–29 in 2003 can expect to live an additional 37 years without disability, increasing to 42 years for men of that age in 2018
  • 50–54 in 2003 can expect to live an additional 17 years without disability, increasing to 20 years for men of that age in 2018
  • 75–79 in 2003 can expect to live an additional 3.3 years without disability, increasing to 4.4 years for men of that age in 2018.

Women aged:

  • 25–29 in 2003 can expect to live an additional 40 years without disability, increasing to 43 years for women of that age in 2018
  • 50–54 in 2003 can expect to live an additional 18 years without disability, increasing to 21 years for women of that age in 2018
  • 75–79 in 2003 can expect to live an additional 3.9 years without disability, increasing to 4.9 years for women of that age in 2018.

Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.5: The number of years a person can expect to live without disability, by age in 2003 and age in 2018, and sex

Chart showing the number of years that males and females can expect to live without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by 5-year age group, and by year, including 2003 and 2018. The chart shows females, aged 40–44 in 2018, can expect to live 30 years without disability, compared with 26 years for females aged 40–44 in 2003.


Gender gap

The gender gap in the expected years living without:

  • overall disability narrowed in most age groups between 2003 and 2018
  • severe or profound disability remained stable for most age groups (Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.6).

This is likely the result of greater gains in life expectancy for men than for women over that period combined with known sex differences and changes in disability prevalence.

Gender gap in health expectancies

Gender gap in health expectancies is the number of years difference between the expected years for men and expected years for women.

Figure LIFE EXPECTANCY.6: The difference between males and females in number of years expected to live without disability and without severe or profound disability, by age in 2003 and age in 2018

Chart showing the difference in number of years that females can expect to live without disability compared with males, by disability status, in 2003 and 2018. The reader can select to display the chart by 5-year age group. The chart shows females, aged 10–14 in 2003, can expect to live without disability for 3 more years than males, compared with 2 more years in 2018.


Changes in disability prevalence over time

The expected years of living with and without disability have been estimated using the combined data sources of mortality (life tables) and disability prevalence rates. Because of this, examining patterns and changes in disability prevalence rates can shed light on the patterns and trends in health expectancies. See also Prevalence for more information.

Between 2003 and 2018, the crude rates of disability and of severe or profound core activity limitation generally decreased for both sexes, and especially for older people (aged 65 and over).

Because the likelihood of disability increases with age, and the age structure of a population may change over time, age-standardised rates allow for meaningful comparison of the underlying prevalence rate over time. Between 2003 and 2018, the age-standardised rates of disability and of severe or profound core activity limitation generally decreased, and particularly for older people (ABS 2019a).

Overall, while males made greater gains than females in terms of decreases in the overall prevalence of disability, females made greater gains in terms of decreases in severe or profound core activity limitation (ABS 2019b).

The average number of years of life expected in full health varies by socioeconomic level. People aged 65 living in the lowest socioeconomic areas can expect to have a shorter life expectancy and a smaller percentage of life in full health than those in the highest (more advantaged) socioeconomic areas (AIHW 2020).