Low death rate, almost no flu but more alcohol-induced deaths in 2021

Media Release

The death rate remained low in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Lauren Moran, Director of Mortality Statistics at the ABS, said, “There were 171,469 deaths registered in 2021 at a rate of 507 deaths per 100,000 people. This was 3.2 per cent higher than 2020 but lower than the 2019 pre-pandemic death rate (522 per 100,000).”

Heart disease was the leading cause of death in 2021, with dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), stroke, lung cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases making up the top five causes. Heart disease was the leading cause of male deaths while dementia was the leading cause among females.

“Deaths from respiratory diseases remained low in 2021, with the mortality rate of 39.1 deaths per 100,000 people being the second lowest on record. This included just two deaths from influenza. COVID-19 public health measures appeared to supress the transmission of many common respiratory illnesses in 2020, and this continued in 2021,” Ms Moran said.

“COVID-19 was the 34th ranked cause in 2021, with 1,122 deaths, most of which were associated with the Delta wave. COVID-19 deaths in 2021 had a younger median age than in 2020 (79.1 compared to 86.9) and a higher tendency to have pre-existing chronic cardiac conditions. In 2020, the most common pre-existing condition among those who died from COVID-19 was dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease).

“In 2021, alcohol-induced deaths increased 5.8 per cent compared to 2020 and was the highest rate recorded in the past 10 years. This was driven by an 8.1 per cent increase in deaths among males,” Ms Moran said.

The suicide rate was 12.0 per 100,000 people, similar to that recorded in 2020 (12.1 per 100,000 people). Common risk factors included psychosocial stressors, mental health conditions, chronic diseases and substance use disorders.

Comprehensive data and analysis can be found in Causes of Death Australia, available for free download from the ABS website.

Media notes

  • Care should be taken when reporting suicide deaths. Please refer to the Mindframe website for further guidance.
  • Care should be taken when interpreting figures relating to suicide and when comparing suicide data with previous years. See the Intentional self-harm sub-section in Methodology for more information.
  • When reporting ABS data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (or ABS) must be attributed as the source.
  • For media requests and interviews, contact the ABS media team at media@abs.gov.au.
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