Life expectancy and mortality

Life expectancy is expressed as either the number of years a newborn baby is expected to live, or the expected years of life remaining for a person at a given age.

This stacked bar chart shows that life expectancy at birth for Australian females born in 1881–1890 was 50.8 years and 84.6 years for females born in 2015–17 (34 years longer).

Chart: AIHW. Source: AIHW 2019b.

Australian females born in 2015–2017 can expect to live 34 years longer than females born in 1881–1890.

Life expectancy at birth in Australia has improved dramatically for both sexes in the last century, and shows some variation between population groups (ABS 2018b, AIHW 2019e, OECD 2019):

  • Females born in Australia in 2015–2017 can expect to live to the age of 84.6 years on average (an increase of 0.9 years in the past 10 years).
  • In 2015–2017, life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females was estimated to be 75.6 years, 7.8 years less than for non-Indigenous females.
  • International comparisons of life expectancy at birth projected for females in 2017, indicate that Australian females have the 7th highest life expectancy in the world. Japan ranks 1st with 87.3 years.

For more information, see: Deaths in Australia: Life expectancy.

Health Adjusted Life Expectancy

Health Adjusted Life Expectancy (HALE) reflects the length of time an individual at a specific age could, on average, expect to live in full health (AIHW 2019a). It can be measured at any age but is typically reported:

  • from birth (which represents the average life expectancy for a baby born that year)
  • at age 65, describing health in an ageing population.

Life expectancy in Australia for females born in 2015 was 84.6 years, while the average number of healthy years (HALE) for these babies was 74.4 years. The difference between life expectancy and HALE (that is, the time expected in less than full health) was 10.2 years. This means that females could expect to spend 88% of their lives in full health.

While females born in 2015 are expected, on average, to live 4.2 years longer than males, they are also expected to have 2.9 more years of healthy life than males.

Life expectancy in 2015 for women aged 65 was 22.3 years—that is, they could expect to live to the age of 84.6. At age 65, women could expect on average, 16.8 healthy years of life and 5.5 years in less than full health.

Between 2003 and 2015, life expectancy and HALE at birth increased for females. Females gained 1.6 years in life expectancy (from 83.0 in 2003 to 84.6 in 2015) and 1.3 years in HALE (from 73.1 to 74.4 years) (AIHW 2019a).

For more information see: Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015


Mortality data, such as premature deaths, potentially avoidable deaths and mortality rates can help in understanding death and the fatal burden of disease in the population at a point in time.

Causes of death

Monitoring causes of death helps to measure the health status of a population. Causes of death can be used to:

  • assess the success of interventions to improve disease outcomes
  • signal changes in community health status and disease processes
  • highlight inequalities in health status between population groups.

In 2017, 78,051 Australian females died (AIHW 2019e). The median age at death was 85 years, and the leading cause of death was Dementia and Alzheimer disease (11%), followed by coronary heart disease (10%), and cerebrovascular disease (7.5%) (Figure 15). Leading causes of death for females varied by age group (Figure 16).

For more information see Deaths in Australia: Life expectancy.

Figure 15: Leading causes of death for females, 2017

This bar chart shows the leading causes of death for females in 2017. The top 2 leading causes of death was Dementia and Alzheimer disease (8,859 deaths) and coronary heart disease (8,076). The remaining 8 causes, each less than 6,000 deaths, are cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes and heart failure and complications and ill-defined heart disease.


  1. Data are based on year of registration of death; deaths registered in 2017 are based on the preliminary version of cause of death data and are subject to further revision by the ABS. 
  2. Leading causes of death are based on underlying causes of death and classified using an AIHW-modified version of Becker et al. 2006. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th (ICD-10) codes presented in parentheses. 

Chart: AIHW. Source: AIHW 2019e (see Table S14).

Figure 16: Leading causes of death for females, by age group (years), 2017

This tile chart shows the leading 3 causes for females by age-group in 2017. The top leading cause of death was perinatal and congenital conditions for those aged under 1 and 1–14, suicide for those aged 15–24 and 25–44, breast cancer for those aged 45–64, lung cancer for those aged 65–74 and dementia and Alzheimer disease for those aged 75 and over.

Note: Disease rankings exclude ‘other‘ residual conditions from each disease group; for example, ‘other musculoskeletal conditions’.
Chart: AIHW. Source: AIHW 2019e (see Table S15). 

Premature and potentially avoidable deaths

In 2017, females accounted for around 2 in 5 (38%) of premature deaths. Mortality rates varied between population groups (AIHW 2019f):

  • Females in Very remote areas had a higher percentage of potentially avoidable deaths, with 3 in 5 (62%) premature deaths being potentially avoidable, compared with less half (46%) in Major cities.
  • The median age at death for females decreased with increasing remoteness: from 85 years in Major cities to 69 years in Very remote areas.
  • Females in the lowest socioeconomic areas had twice the rate of potentially avoidable deaths per 100,000 population compared with females in the highest socioeconomic areas (105.5 and 48.1 per 100,000, respectively).
  • The median age at death for females decreased with decreasing socioeconomic area: from 85 years in the highest area to 83 in the lowest.

For more information see: Mortality Over Regions and Time.