Age at death

In 2018, there were 158,493 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 2018 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, 2018

The population pyramid shows that the majority of deaths registered in Australia in 2018 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, child deaths (aged 0–4 years) accounted for 26% of all deaths compared to 0.7% in 2018.

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 2018, there were 72 child deaths per 100,000 population—31% lower than a decade earlier (2008) and 97% lower than in 1907 when recording began. The death rate was higher for boys than girls (81 and 63 deaths per 100,000 population respectively).

The drop in child deaths in Australia mostly reflects a decline in infant deaths (aged less than 1), 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, 1907–2018

The line graph shows that death rates for children aged 0–4 have decreased overall from 1907 to 2018. The male death rate for children aged 0–4 decreased from 2,604 deaths per 100,000 population in 1907 to 81 in 2018. The female death rate for children aged 0–4 decreased from 2,214 deaths per 100,000 population in 1907 to 63 in 2018. Throughout the entire period, the female death rate was lower than the male death rate.

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 Australia's Children.
  • Perinatal deaths are deaths of babies who die before birth (stillbirth or fetal 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 specified arbitrary 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 871,807 PYLLs in Australia in 2018. This is a little over half (55%) 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 2018 this figure was 37 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 1978, there were 116 PYLLs per 1,000 males compared to 63 PYLLs per 1,000 females: a difference of 53 PYLL per 1,000. This gap decreased to 32 PYLL in 1998 (71 PYLLs per 1,000 males and 39 PYLLs per 1,000 females) and 19 PYLL in 2018 (47 PYLLs per 1,000 males and 28 PYLLs per 1,000 females).

Figure 2.3: Potential years of life lost by sex, 1908–2018

The line graph shows that the rate of potential years of life lost per 1,000 population aged less than 75 years has decreased overall from 1907 to 2018. For males, the rate decreased from 405 potential years of life lost per 1,000 population in 1907 to 47 in 2018. For females, the rate decreased from 356 potential years of life lost per 1,000 population in 1907 to 28 in 2018. Throughout the entire period, the rate of potential years of life lost was lower for females than 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 2018, there were 26,700 potentially avoidable deaths: half (49%) 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 1998 and 2018 (from 183 to 100 deaths per 100,000 population). Rates fell by 46% among males (from 240 to 130 deaths per 100,000 males) and by 44% among females (from 127 to 72 per 100,000 females).

Figure 2.4: Age-standardised death rates of potentially avoidable deaths among people aged less than 75 by sex, 1998–2018

The line graph shows that the age-standardised death rate of potentially avoidable deaths among people aged less than 75 decreased from 1997 to 2018. For males, the age-standardised rate decreased from 240 potentially avoidable deaths per 1,000 population in 1998 to 130 in 2018. For females, the age-standardised rate decreased from 127 potentially avoidable deaths per 1,000 population in 1998 to 72 in 2018. Throughout the entire period, the rate of potentially avoidable deaths was lower for females than 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 2020 have been applied. Note that the ICD-10 codes for colorectal cancer C18–C20, C26.0 have been used for this measure.

Data on potentially avoidable deaths by small geographical areas are available as an indicator within the Australia's health performance framework, in report Life expectancy and potentially avoidable deaths and the AIHW Mortality Over Regions and Time (MORT) books.