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.

Life expectancy

This stacked bar chart shows that life expectancy at birth for Australian males born in 1881–1890 was 47.2 years and 80.5 years for males born in 2015–2017 (33 years longer).

Chart: AIHW. Source: AIHW 2019b.

Australian males born in 2015–2017 can expect to live 33 years longer than males 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 2019b, OECD 2019):

  • Males born in Australia in 2015–2017 can expect to live to the age of 80.5 years on average (an increase of 1.5 years in the past 10 years).
  • In 2015–2017, life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males was estimated to be 71.6 years, 8.6 years less than for non-Indigenous males (80.5 years).
  • International comparisons of life expectancy at birth projected for males in 2017 indicate that Australian males have the 9th highest life expectancy in the world (80.5 years). Switzerland is ranked 1st with 81.6 years.

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

Health Adjusted Life Expectancy (HALE)

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. 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 males born in 2015 was 80.4 years, while the average number of healthy years (HALE) for these babies was 71.5 years. The difference between life expectancy and HALE (that is, the time expected in less than full health) was 8.9 years. This means that males could expect to spend 89% of their lives in full heath.

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

Life expectancy in 2015 for men aged 65 was 19.6—that is, they could expect to live to the age of 84.6. At age 65, men could expect on average 15 healthy years of life and 4.6 years in less than full health.

Between 2003 and 2015, life expectancy and HALE at birth increased for males. Males gained 2.3 years in life expectancy (from 78.1 years in 2003 to 80.4 in 2015) and 2.0 years in HALE (from 69.5 to 71.5 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, 82,858 Australian males died (AIHW 2019b). The median age at death was 78 years and the leading cause of death was coronary heart disease (12.7%), followed by lung cancer (5.9%) and Dementia and Alzheimer disease (5.9%). Causes of death varied by age group (Figure 17) (AIHW 2019b).

For more information see Deaths in Australia.

Figure 15: Leading causes of death for males, 2017

This bar chart shows the top 10 leading causes of death for males in 2017. The top leading cse of death was coronary heart disease (10,514 deaths). The remaining 9 causes, each less than 5,000 deaths, were: lung cancer, dementia and Alzheimer disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, suicide, and influenza and pneumonia (1,943 deaths).


  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 2006. International Statistical Classification of Disease and Related Health Problems, 10th revision (ICD-10) codes are presented in parentheses.

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

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

This tile chart shows the 3 leading causes of death for males by age-group. The top leading cse of death was perinatal and congenital conditions for those aged under 1, land transport accidents for those aged 1–14, suicide for those 15–24 and 25–44 and coronary heart disease for those aged 45–64, 65–74, 75–84 and 85 and over.

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

Premature and potentially avoidable deaths

In 2017, males accounted for 3 in 5 (62%) premature deaths. Mortality rates varied between population groups (AIHW 2019c):

  • Males in Very remote areas had a higher percentage of potentially avoidable deaths, with 3 in 5 (62%) premature deaths being potentially avoidable, compared with 1 in 2 (50%) in Major cities.
  • The median age at death for males decreased with increasing remoteness: from 79 in Major cities to 68 in Very remote areas.
  • Males in lower socioeconomic areas had twice the rate of potentially avoidable deaths per 100,000 population compared with males in higher socioeconomic areas (187 and 87 per 100,000 respectively).
  • The median age at death for males decreased with decreasing socioeconomic group: from 81 in the highest areas to 77 in the lowest areas.

For more information see: Mortality Over Regions and Time.