Age at death

In 2016, there were 158,504 deaths registered in Australia. The majority of deaths in Australia, like other developed countries, occur among older people. Sixty-six per cent of deaths registered in Australia in 2016 were among people aged 75 or over (59% for males and 73% for females). The median age at death was 78 years for males and 84 years for females (Table S2.1).

Figure 2.1: Deaths by sex and age group, 2016

The population pyramid shows that the majority of deaths registered in Australia in 2016 were among people aged 75 and over. The pyramid shows that, compared with females, a greater number of males die in the 5-year age groups from 0¬–4 to 80–84. A greater number of females than males die in the age groups 85–89, 90–94, 95–99 and 100 and over.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S2.1).

Child deaths

Deaths in early childhood have reduced substantially over the past 100 years. In 1907, deaths in the 0–4 age group accounted for 26% of all deaths compared to less than 1% in 2016.

Child death rates presented here are calculated as the number of deaths among young children (aged 0–4) divided by the population of the same age and expressed as per 100,000 population.

In 2016, there were 74 deaths per 100,000 population—36% lower than a decade earlier (2006) and 97% lower than in 1907 when recording began. The death rate was higher for boys than girls (81 and 66 deaths per 100,000 population respectively).

The drop in child deaths in Australia mostly reflects a decline in infant deaths, which is linked to:

  • improved access to and quality of neonatal health care
  • increased community awareness of risk factors for infant and child deaths
  • improved sanitation and hygiene
  • reductions in vaccine-preventable diseases through universal immunisation programs.

Figure 2.2: Child (aged 0–4) death rates by sex, 1907–2016

The line graph shows that the rate of potential years of life lost per 1,000 population under age 75 has decreased overall from 1907 to 2016. For males, the rate decreased from 405 potential years of life lost per 1,000 population in 1907 to 49 in 2016. For females, the rate decreased from 356 potential years of life lost per 1,000 population in 1907 to 29 in 2016. Throughout the entire period, the rate of potential years of life lost was lower for females compared with males.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S2.2).

Other measures of deaths in early childhood and infancy are also commonly used to describe the health status of a population:

  • Infant mortality rate is defined as the number of deaths of infants (aged less than 1) divided by the number of live births (and usually expressed per 1,000 live births). For more information on infant deaths, see Children’s Headline Indicators.
  • Perinatal deaths are deaths of babies who die before birth (stillbirth or foetal death) or within the first 28 days of life (neonatal deaths). For more information on perinatal deaths, see Mothers and babies.
  • Under-five death rates are defined as the number of child (aged 0–4) deaths divided by the number of live births, rather than dividing by the population aged 0–4, and expressed per 1,000 live births. For more information on under-five deaths, see World Health Organization.

Potential years of life lost (PYLLs)

Premature deaths can be summarised in terms of potential years of life lost (PYLLs). This measure considers only deaths that occur before a certain age. For example, if dying before the age of 75 is considered premature then a person dying at age 40 would have lost 35 potential years of life.

Using the age of 75 as the cut-off, there were 883,157 PYLLs in Australia in 2016. This is a little over half the number in 1907 when there were 1,576,383 PYLLs. Expressed another way, in 1907 there were 382 PYLLs per 1,000 population and in 2016 this figure was 39 PYLLs per 1,000 population; a decrease of 90%.

Males are more likely than females to experience premature death, however, the difference between the sexes is narrowing. In 1976, there were 123 PYLLs per 1,000 males compared to 69 PYLLs per 1,000 females: a difference of 54 PYLL per 1,000. This gap decreased to 34 PYLL in 1996 (74 PYLLs per 1,000 males and 40 PYLLs per 1,000 females) and 20 PYLL in 2016 (49 PYLLs per 1,000 males and 29 PYLLs per 1,000 females).

Figure 2.3: Potential years of life lost by sex, 1907–2016

The line graph shows that the rate of potential years of life lost per 1,000 population under age 75 has decreased overall from 1907 to 2016. For males, the rate decreased from 405 potential years of life lost per 1,000 population in 1907 to 49 in 2016. For females, the rate decreased from 356 potential years of life lost per 1,000 population in 1907 to 29 in 2016. Throughout the entire period, the rate of potential years of life lost was lower for females compared with males.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S2.3).

PYLLs can be used to estimate the burden of mortality, which is the loss associated with early death. On this basis it is sometimes used as an indicator of the social and economic impact of premature deaths. Burden of disease measures include a component of years of life lost that is weighted according to the remaining life expectancy at that age of death, rather than using the age of 75 as the cut-off.

For more information, see Burden of disease.

Potentially avoidable deaths

Potentially avoidable deaths are deaths among people younger than 75 that are potentially avoidable within the present health care system. They include deaths from conditions that are potentially preventable through individualised care and/or treatable through existing primary or hospital care.

In 2016, there were over 26,600 potentially avoidable deaths: half (50%) of all deaths for people aged less than 75. Of these deaths, 64% were male and 36% were female.

Potentially avoidable death rates fell by 45% between 1997 and 2016 (from 193 to 105 deaths per 100,000 population). Rates fell by 46% among males (from 252 to 136 deaths per 100,000 males) and by 45% among females (from 136 to 75 per 100,000 females).

Figure 2.4: Age-standardised death rates of potentially avoidable deaths among people aged less than 75 by sex, 1997–2016

The line graph shows that the age-standardised death rate of potentially avoidable deaths among people aged less than 75 decreased from 1997 to 2016. For males, the age-standardised rate decreased from 252.1 potentially avoidable deaths per 1,000 population in 1997 to 136.0 in 2016. For females, the age-standardised rate decreased from 135.7 potentially avoidable deaths per 1,000 population in 1997 to 75.1 in 2016. Throughout the entire period, the rate of potentially avoidable deaths was lower for females compared with males.

 

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database (Table S2.4).

Potentially avoidable deaths are classified using nationally agreed definitions based on cause of death for people aged less than 75. Historical data may differ from previous reports as the nationally agreed revisions to the definition of potentially avoidable deaths in 2016 have been applied.

Data on potentially avoidable deaths by small geographical areas is available on the MyHealthyCommunities website and in the AIHW Mortality Over Regions and Time (MORT) books.