1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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Infant mortality (i.e. deaths under one year of age) is commonly viewed as an important indicator of the general health and wellbeing of a population, and has a large influence on life expectancy at birth. A high infant mortality rate lowers life expectancy, while a low infant mortality rate contributes to increased life expectancy.

Over the past 10 years, the male infant mortality rate has been consistently higher than that for females. Between 1998 and 2008, the male infant mortality rate decreased from 5.5 to 4.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, while the female infant mortality rate declined from 4.5 to 3.6.

There was a considerable decline in infant mortality during the 20th century, particularly in the first half, largely due to improvements in prenatal and postnatal care, declines in infectious diseases, improved sanitation, drug development, mass vaccination and improvements in birth conditions (United Nations 1998). For every 1,000 babies born in Australia in 1904, nearly 82 died before their first birthday compared with around 29 deaths per 1,000 live births at the end of World War II. By 1998, the rate was 5 deaths per 1,000 live births. This had declined further by 2008 to 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 (ABS 2009b).

In previous decades, the risk of death in the first year of life had a large impact on overall life expectancy. Male life expectancy at birth in 1901-1910 was around 55 years, but was 60 years for those reaching their first birthday (ABS 2008a). In more recent years there has been a much smaller difference between these life expectancies. For example, in 2008, life expectancy was around 79 years for males both at birth and for those reaching their first birthday (ABS 2009b).

High infant mortality rates are associated with poor socioeconomic conditions, and certain population groups may be more at risk than others (AIHW 2006). High infant mortality is one of the biggest health issues affecting Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. For more information see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Health glossary
  • Health references

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