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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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Mortality, life expectancy and causes of death data provide important insights into the overall health of Australians. Trends in mortality over time can signal changes in the health status of the population, as well as provide a baseline indicator for the effectiveness of the health system. Patterns of mortality in the community, including cause, age, sex, population group and geographical distribution, inform the work of people working in health policy, planning and administration, as well as health researchers and medical personnel (AIHW, 2011e).

The ABS compiles mortality statistics and codes causes of death using information from jurisdictional registrars, classified according to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (ICD-10). Rates are expressed as standardised death rates (SDRs), which enable the comparison of death rates between populations over time by relating them to a standard population.


Over the last two decades or so, death rates in Australia have declined for both males and females in all age groups.

Death rates for men aged 85 years and over dropped from 175.7 to 146.3 deaths per 1,000 during this period, while rates for women aged 85 years and over dropped from 143.5 to 127.1 deaths per 1,000. Rates for boys aged 1 to 4 years dropped from 0.6 deaths per 1,000 in 1991 to 0.2 per 1,000 in 2010; while for girls aged 1 to 4 years, rates remained relatively steady at an average of 0.2 deaths per 1,000 standard population.

Overall, the standardised death rate (SDR) decreased from 6.9 deaths per 1,000 standard population in 1991 to 5.7 deaths per 1,000 standard population in 2010.

In 2010, the SDR was higher for males than females (6.8 compared with 4.7 deaths per 1,000 standard population). The highest SDR was in the Northern Territory (7.7 deaths per 1,000 standard population), while the lowest was in the Australian Capital Territory (5.3 deaths per 1,000 standard population). More information on deaths can be found in chapter 7 POPULATION.

Infant mortality

Infant mortality (deaths under one year of age) is an important indicator of the general health and wellbeing of a population, and has a large influence on life expectancy at birth (because a high infant mortality rate lowers life expectancy). Infant mortality rates are expressed as number of deaths in a specified period per 1,000 live births in the same period.

Over the last two decades or so, the mortality rate for infant boys was consistently higher than that for infant girls, although both declined. Between 1991 and 2010, the male infant mortality rate decreased from 7.9 to 4.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, while the female infant mortality rate decreased from 6.3 to 3.4 deaths.

This decline was evident during the whole of the 20th century, but particularly in the first half. For every 1,000 babies born in Australia in 1904, nearly 82 died before their first birthday. By 1950, this had reduced to around 29 deaths per 1,000 live births, and by 2010 the rate was just over 4 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2008, 39% of all infant deaths occurred within the first day of birth, with a further 31% occurring before the baby reached four weeks of age. The decline was largely due to improvements in prenatal and postnatal care, birth conditions and sanitation, as well as drug development, mass vaccination, and lower rates of infectious diseases (Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010, 1370.0).

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rate varies across Australia. In New South Wales, the rate was 7.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in the period 2006–08, compared with the non-Indigenous infant mortality rate of 4.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. In the Northern Territory, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rate was over three times as high as the non-Indigenous rate (13.6 deaths compared with 3.8 deaths per 1,000 live births) (Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010, 1370.0).


Causes of death statistics enable sound formulation and monitoring of health and other social policies. In Australia, causes of death statistics are recorded as both underlying cause (i.e. the disease or injury that initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death) and multiple cause (i.e. all causes and conditions reported on the death certificate that contributed, were associated with or were the underlying cause of the death).

In 2009, the leading underlying cause of death for all Australians was Ischaemic heart disease, which includes angina, blocked arteries of the heart and heart attacks (22,523 deaths). While ischaemic heart diseases have been the leading cause of death in Australia since 2000, the proportion of deaths due to this cause has decreased from 21% of all deaths registered in 2000 to 16% of all deaths registered in 2009.

Cerebrovascular disease (strokes) remained the second leading underlying cause of death in 2009. Deaths from this cause also decreased over the last 10 years by 8.8%, from 12,300 deaths in 2000 to 11,220 deaths in 2009.

While rates for the top two leading causes of death have been decreasing, those for the next two highest causes have been increasing. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease was the third leading cause of death in 2009, increasing by 126% since 2000 (from 3,655 deaths in 2000 to 8,277 deaths in 2009). This is largely due to an increase in deaths coded to dementia, from 2,096 in 2000 to 5,836 in 2009. Trachea and lung cancers were the fourth leading cause of death in 2009, increasing by 13% from 6,878 deaths in 2000 to 7,786 deaths in 2009 (Causes of Death, Australia, 2009, 3303.0) (graph 11.15). (Note that updates to coding instructions have resulted in the assignment of some deaths shifting from Cerebrovascular diseases to Vascular dementia. Changes in recent years to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (Cwlth) and Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (Cwlth) now allow for death from vascular dementia of veterans or members of the defence forces to be related to relevant service, which is also believed to have had an effect on the number of deaths attributed to dementia (Causes of Death, Australia, 2009, 3303.0).)

11.15 Leading Causes of Death(a), Australia - 2009(b)(c)

The top 10 leading causes of death accounted for 53% of all deaths registered in 2009.

Information on causes of death for all NHPA conditions can be found in HEALTH STATUS.


Life expectancy at birth is one of the most widely used and internationally recognised indicators of population health. High life expectancy at birth generally indicates low levels of infant mortality, a safe environment in which to live, a good health care system, sufficient food and the adoption of preventative health measures.

How long people live is of considerable social policy interest in light of the implications for population growth, projected Australian government spending on health, age-related pensions and aged care, and the workforce’s ability to maintain current levels of economic growth.

In Australia, life expectancy at birth has consistently improved over the past 125 years or so, as shown in graph 11.16. Based on current mortality rates, a boy born in the period 2008–2010 can expect to live 79.5 years, while a girl can expect to live 84.0 years. In 2009, Australia's life expectancy ranked sixth highest amongst OECD countries for both males and females (OECD, 2011). International comparisons of life expectancy can be found in found in chapter 7 POPULATION.

11.16 Life Expectancy at Birth—1985–2010

Other information on life expectancy can also be found in chapter 7 POPULATION.


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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.

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