The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". While the level of disease or infirmity can be assessed by mortality, disability and morbidity statistics, the presence of positive wellbeing is more difficult to measure. Multidimensional instruments which address physical, mental and social functioning continue to be developed and are increasingly being used to measure health and wellbeing in individuals and populations.
The following health status information includes morbidity, disability and mortality data. Other aspects of disability, such as information on carers, are contained in Income and welfare.
Health and wellbeing
The 1995 National Health Survey revealed that 83% of Australians aged 15 and over reported having good, very good or excellent health. This proportion varies from 93% of 15-19 year old females, to 54% of males aged 85 years or more. Because of this variation with age, all estimates in this section have been standardised by age and sex to remove the effects of different age structures in the populations being considered.
Although males had a similar rate of fair or poor health (17%, compared to 16% of females), there were some noticeable differences between the sexes within individual population groups (table 9.1). Of those not in the labour force, 31% of males reported fair or poor health, compared to 23% of females. However, a higher proportion of unemployed females (28%) reported fair or poor health than unemployed males (25%).
Among the overseas-born, 14% of females who had been in Australia for less than five years perceived their health to be fair or poor, while only 10% of males in this category reported fair or poor health. People who spoke English at home reported lower rates of fair or poor health than those who spoke a language other than English (16% compared to 23%).
There was a steady improvement in perceived health from people in households with the lowest income to those in households with the highest income. The socioeconomic status of the area in which people lived was also associated with self-reported health status. People living in the most disadvantaged areas of the nation were almost twice as likely to consider their health to be fair or poor as those living in the most advantaged areas.
9.1 INDICATORS OF SELF-ASSESSED HEALTH STATUS(a) - 1995
|Population characteristics |
|Labour force status || || || |
|Unemployed (looking for work) |
|Not in labour force |
|Equivalent household income(b) || || || |
|Lowest income quintile |
|Second income quintile |
|Third income quintile |
|Fourth income quintile |
|Highest income quintile |
|Relative socioeconomic disadvantage of areas(c) || || || |
|Most disadvantaged areas quintile |
|Second quintile |
|Third quintile |
|Fourth quintile |
|Least disadvantaged areas quintile |
|Birthplace || || || |
|Born in Australia |
|Born overseas |
|Less than 5 years in Australia |
|5 years or more in Australia |
|Language spoken at home || || || |
|Language other than English |
|Self-assessed body weight || || || |
|Acceptable weight |
|All persons |
|(a) Indirectly standardised by age and sex. |
(b) Household income adjusted for the number of adults and children in the household, and the employment status of members of the household. Uses Henderson Equivalence scales. Includes respondents from households where all adults members stated their income.
(c) The Socioeconomic Indexes for Areas describe the characteristics of the area in which a person lives, rather than the characteristics of the person.
Source: ABS data available on request, 1995 National Health Survey.