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Improvements in living conditions in the early-20th century, such as better water supply, sewerage systems, food quality and health education resulted in an overall decline in mortality. The continuing reduction in mortality in the latter half of last century is attributed to improving social conditions and advances in medical technology such as mass immunisation and antibiotics. The past two decades in particular have seen further increases in life expectancy. These increases are due in part to lower infant mortality, fewer deaths among young adults from motor vehicle accidents and fewer deaths among older men from heart disease. The reduction in the number of deaths from heart disease has been related to medical advances and behavioural changes such as improvements in diet and a reduction in smoking.
During the 20th century life expectancy of new-born girls was consistently higher than that of new-born boys, with the difference peaking at about seven years in the 1970s and early-1980s. The difference was largely due to the significant decline in heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease mortality among women. In recent years the gap in life expectancy between new-born males and females narrowed to around five years. This can be attributed to the large reductions in death rates of males aged 45 years and over, and particularly to the reduction in heart disease deaths among males.
The increase in life expectancy for older persons has implications for retirement planning and income policies. Life expectancy of 65 year olds increased from 14 years for males and 18 years for females in 1985, to 18 years for males and 21 years for females in 2003-05.
Australians have a life expectancy at birth which compares well with that experienced in other developed nations. Life expectancy at birth of Australian males (78.5 years) was exceeded only by Iceland and Hong Kong (SAR of China), both at 79 years. Japan, Macao (SAR of China), Sweden, Switzerland and Israel all shared with Australia a male life expectancy at birth of 78 years. Life expectancy at birth of Australian females (83.3 years) was only exceeded by Japan and Hong Kong (SAR of China), both at 85 years. Females in Spain, France, Iceland, Italy and Switzerland all shared with Australia a life expectancy of 83 years. The combined Australian male and female life expectancy of new-born babies for 2003-05 was 80.9 years. This was higher than in Canada (80 years), New Zealand (79 years) and the United Kingdom and the United States of America (78 years) and (77 years) respectively.
A life table is a statistical model that is constructed from the death rates of a population at different ages. It is frequently used to express death in terms of the probability of dying. In its simplest form, a life table is generated from age-specific death rates and the resulting values are used to measure mortality, survivorship and life expectancy. Table 7.34 shows the expectations of additional years of life at specific ages for Australian males and females using statistics for the period 2003-05.
Table 7.35 provides summary measures of mortality for the period 1995 to 2005.