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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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Health

LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH

Life expectancy at birth is one of the most widely used and internationally recognised indicators of population health. It focuses on the length of life rather than its quality, and provides a useful summary of the general health of the population.

In Australia, life expectancy at birth has improved for both males and females over the years. A boy born in 2008 could expect to live to 79.2 years of age, while a girl could expect to reach 83.7 years of age. Over the past decade, the gap between boys' and girls' life expectancy has reduced from 5.6 years in 1998 to 4.5 years in 2008.

Increases in life expectancy occurred over most of the 20th century, resulting in an increase of over 25 years of life for both men and women. In the first part of the century, improvements in living conditions such as the provision of cleaner water, better sewerage systems and improved housing, coupled with rising incomes and improved health care including initiatives such as mass immunisation, were associated with a decline in deaths from infectious diseases. These changes were particularly beneficial for infants, for pregnant women and those giving birth, and for older people. Rapid declines in infant deaths were the main reason that life expectancy increased in the first half of the 20th century (ABS 1995).

Increases in life expectancy slowed in the middle of the 20th century and then plateaued in the 1960s, largely because of increases in the rates of cardiovascular disease (Mathers & Douglas 1997). In the latter part of the century, chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and strokes, have replaced infectious diseases as the main causes of death.

Further progress in life expectancy in the latter part of the 20th century was achieved with a decline in the number of deaths from chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and strokes. This was largely due to the promotion of healthier lifestyles, continued improvements in living standards (including improved nutrition and better housing and working conditions), improvements in aged care management, and ongoing medical advances including improvement in illness prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.

Despite the continued improvement in the health of Australians, there are significant disparities between different population groups, such as between men and women and between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous people. See Progress of Australians for further information.

RELATED PAGES

  • Health glossary
  • Health references
  • Progress of Australians
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