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In 2002, 133,707 deaths (68,900 males and 64,800 females) were registered in Australia, 5,200 more than were registered in 2001 (128,500). Since 1982 the number of deaths has increased by an average of 0.8% per year. The steady increase in the number of deaths over time reflects the increasing size of the population and, in particular, the increasing number of older people. With continued ageing of the population the number of deaths will continue to rise, with deaths projected to outnumber births sometime in the 2030s.
The reduction in mortality in the early part of the 20th century has been attributed to improvements in living conditions, such as better water supply, sewerage systems, food quality and health education. The continuing reduction in mortality in the latter half of last century has been attributed to improving social conditions, and to 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 behavioural changes, such as dietary improvements and reduced smoking.
During the 20th century the life expectancy of new-born girls was consistently higher than that of new-born boys. Up until the early-1930s, a new-born girl had a life expectancy approximately four years greater than that of a new-born boy, with this difference peaking at about seven years in the 1970s and early-1980s, largely due to significant declines in heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease mortality among women, combined with a slight decline in male life expectancy from accidents among males aged 15-24 years and from heart disease among 45-84 year old males. In recent years, the gap in life expectancy between new-born males and females has narrowed to about five years (5.2 years in 2000-2002). 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 has increased from 14 years for males and 18 years for females in 1982, to 17 years for males and 21 years for females in 2000-2002. Australians have a life expectancy at birth which compares well with that experienced in other developed nations. Among the countries shown in table 5.28, the life expectancy at birth of Australian males and females (77 and 83 years respectively) was exceeded only by that in Japan (both males and females), Hong Kong (SAR of China) (females) and France (females). The life expectancy of new-born babies in Australia was higher than in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America.
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 5.29 shows the expectations of life at specific ages for Australian males and females. The figures have been obtained from ABS life tables based on demographic characteristics of the Australian population for the period 2000-2002.
Table 5.30 brings together summary measures of mortality for selected years from 1910 to 2002.