Life expectancy

Life expectancy is the most commonly used measure to describe population health and reflects the overall mortality level of a population. Life expectancy measures how long, on average, a person is expected to live based on current age and sex-specific death rates. In summarising mortality patterns, life expectancy is often expressed as the number of years of life a person born today is expected to live.

Life expectancy in Australia has improved dramatically for both sexes in the last century, particularly life expectancy at birth. Compared with their counterparts in 1881–1890, boys and girls born in 2014–2016 can expect to live around 33 and 34 years longer, respectively.

Figure 6.1: Life expectancy (years) at birth by sex, 1881–1890 to 2014–2016

The line graph shows that life expectancy at birth increased from 1881–1890 to 2014–2016. Life expectancy at birth for males increased from 47.2 years in 1881–1890 to 80.4 years in 2014–2016. Life expectancy at birth for females increased from 50.8 years in 1881–1890 to 84.6 years in 2014–2016.

Sources: ABS 2014a; ABS 2014b; ABS 2015; ABS 2016; ABS 2017 (Table S6.1).

In Australia, a boy born in 2014–2016 can expect to live to the age of 80.4 years and a girl would be expected to live to 84.6 years compared to 47.2 and 50.8 years, respectively, in 1881–1890.

Life expectancy changes over the course of a person’s life because as they survive the periods of birth, childhood and adolescence, their chance of reaching older age increases. The life expectancy at different ages can be presented as the number of additional years a person can expect to live, or, their expected age at death in years.

Men aged 65 in 2014–2016 could expect to live another 19.6 years (an expected age at death of 84.6 years) and the life expectancy of women aged 65 in 2014–2016 was 22.3 years (an expected age at death of 87.3 years).

Table 6.1: Life expectancy (expected age at death in years) at different ages by sex, 1881–1890, 1960–1962 and 2014–2016
Age (years) Males
1881–1890
Males
1960–1962
Males
2014–2016
Females
1881–1890
Females
1960–1962
Females
2014–2016
0 (birth) 47.2 67.9 80.4 50.8 74.2 84.6
1 54.3 69.5 80.7 57.4 75.5 84.8
15 59.5 70.1 80.9 62.5 76.0 85.0
25 62.1 70.8 81.2 64.7 76.3 85.1
45 68.0 72.4 82.1 70.6 77.4 85.6
65 76.1 77.5 84.6 77.3 80.7 87.3
85 88.9 89.1 91.2 88.9 89.8 92.3
95 97.2 97.3 98.0 97.3 97.6 98.3

Sources: ABS 2014a; ABS 2016.

Life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population born in 2010–2012, life expectancy was estimated to be 10.6 years lower than that of the non-Indigenous population for males (69.1 years compared with 79.7) and 9.5 years for females (73.7 compared with 83.1).

Between 2005–2007 and 2010–2012, Indigenous life expectancy at birth for boys increased by 1.6 years and by 0.6 years for girls. Over the same period, the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy narrowed by 0.8 years for males and 0.1 years for females.

As shown in Table 6.2, this has resulted in a small decline in the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Table 6.2: Life expectancy (years) at birth, by sex and Indigenous status, 2005–2007 and 2010–2012
Indigenous status Males
2005–2007
Males
2010–2012
Females
2005–2007
Females
2010–2012
Indigenous 67.5 69.1 73.1 73.7
Non-Indigenous 78.9 79.7 82.6 83.1
Difference 11.4 10.6 9.6 9.5

Source: ABS 2013.

International comparisons of life expectancy

Australia enjoys one of the highest life expectancies of any country in the world, at 82.5 years in 2015 for males and females at birth combined—ranked fifth among 35 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The country with the highest life expectancy at birth for males was Iceland (81.2), and for females was Japan (87.1).

Table 6.3: Life expectancy (years) at birth, top 10 OECD countries by sex, 2015
Country Males Country Females Country Persons
Iceland 81.2 Japan 87.1 Japan 83.9
Japan 80.8 Spain 85.8 Spain 83.0
Switzerland 80.8 France 85.5 Switzerland 83.0
Norway 80.5 Korea 85.2 Italy 82.6
Australia 80.4 Switzerland 85.1 Australia 82.5
Sweden 80.4 Italy 84.9 Iceland 82.5
Italy 80.3 Luxembourg 84.7 France 82.4
Israel 80.1 Australia 84.5 Luxembourg 82.4
Spain 80.1 Finland 84.4 Norway 82.4
Luxembourg 80.0 Portugal 84.3 Sweden 82.3

Source: OECD 2017 (Table S6.2).

Calculating life expectancy

Life expectancy is calculated using a statistical tool called a life table. A life table is generated from current age- and sex-specific death rates in a given population. The resulting values are used to estimate the likelihood of someone in a hypothetical population dying before their next birthday.

Calculating a person’s life expectancy is based on death patterns in the population, and assumes that current death rates will persist throughout that person’s life.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publishes life tables and calculates life expectancy for the Australian population and for some groups of the population. These measures are based on 3 years of data to reduce the effect of variations in death rates from year to year.

Life expectancy is related to the average age at death within a population and is inversely related to the population death rates at that time; that is, the lower the death rates the greater the life expectancy. It varies between population groups and over time. High life expectancy is often associated with low infant and child death rates, an ageing population and access to high quality health care.

Differences in life expectancy over time may be due to changes in the patterns of death due to certain conditions. For example, in 1922, infectious disease accounted for 15% of all deaths in Australia and on average people dying from these diseases were 27 years old. By comparison, in 2016, infectious diseases accounted for less than 2% of deaths and the average age at death for these diseases was closer to 76 years. For more information like this and for other causes, see the AIHW General Record of Incidence in Mortality (GRIM) Books.

References

  1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2013. Life Tables for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2010–2012. ABS cat. no. 3302.0.55.003. Canberra: ABS.
  2. ABS 2014a. Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2014. ABS cat. no. 3105.0.65.001. Canberra: ABS.
  3. ABS 2014b. Life Tables, States, Territories and Australia, 2011–2013. ABS cat. no. 3302.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
  4. ABS 2015. Life Tables, States, Territories and Australia, 2012–2014. ABS cat. no. 3302.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
  5. ABS 2016. Life Tables, States, Territories and Australia, 2013–2015. ABS cat. no. 3302.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
  6. ABS 2017. Life Tables, States, Territories and Australia, 2014–2016. ABS cat. no. 3302.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
  7. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2017. OECD Health Statistics 2017. Paris: OECD.