Australia is in the fortunate position of having one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
A child born in 2019 can expect to live to 82.9 years.
Life expectancy is a function of many factors including mortality rates and the quality of the health care system.
Although most people are familiar with the concept of life expectancy, many are not aware that there are differences across the country.
This blog looks at life expectancy trends in Australia from a spatial and temporal perspective.
How has life expectancy changed?
One of the major social advances during the 20th century was the increase in life expectancy – measured at both birth and importantly, at the upper end of the age spectrum.
People are now living to advanced ages in greater numbers than at any time in history.
ABS data shows that in the last decade of the nineteenth century, life expectancy at birth in Australia was 51.1 years for males and 54.8 years for females.
By the early 1980s, this had improved by more than 20 years, reaching 71.4 years for males and 78.4 years for females.
The chart below shows the continued improvement in life expectancy since 1981.
Note there was a change in the methodology so that it was calculated over three years rather than just one, resulting in a minor break in the series in the mid-1990s.
Life expectancy for females reached 80 years in 1990, with males following more than twenty years later in 2011-2013.
Why females have a higher life expectancy than males is complex, but it’s consistent across time and space and thought to reflect biological and lifestyle factors.
The difference has been slowly converging over time – the seven year difference in 1981 had reduced to just 4.1 years in 2017-2019.
Globally, Australia ranks eighth amongst all countries on the measure of life expectancy.
Data from the United Nations for 2015-2020 shows that Hong Kong has the highest life expectancy (84.63 years) followed by Japan (84.43) and Macao (84.04).
Under this methodology, Australia’s life expectancy is 83.20 years.
Life expectancy across Australia
Life expectancy at birth data for SA4s shows that there is a difference of about 12 years between the areas with the highest and lowest life expectancy.
The SA4 with the highest life expectancy was Sydney – North Sydney and Hornsby (86.6 years) and the lowest – North Territory – Outback (74.3 years).
These differences reflect mortality rates, access to advanced health care and socio-economic status.
When measured using the SEIFA indexes, the northern suburbs of Sydney are some of the most socially advantaged in the country.
There is also good access to health care, both in the public and private sectors.
On the other hand, Northern Territory – Outback has a lower socio-economic status and access to quality health care is poor due to the dispersed settlement pattern.
In addition, the proportion of Indigenous persons is quite high.
Indigenous Australians have a lower life expectancy than the Australian population as a whole, with the latest estimates showing an eight-year gap.
As a result, life expectancy in this SA4 is influenced by the population composition.
The map below shows the life expectancy for each SA4 in Australia.
Overall, the areas with the highest life expectancy were found in metropolitan areas.
In Melbourne and Sydney, there was some relationship with socio-economic status.
For instance, the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and the northern, inner, and southern suburbs of Sydney recorded higher life expectancy figures.
In regional Australia, Sunshine Coast SA4 recorded the highest life expectancy (83.8 years).
This is slightly higher than the national figure, but about three years lower than the figure recorded in Sydney – North Sydney and Hornsby.
Conversely, lower life expectancy figures were recorded throughout much of regional Australia.
There were four SA4s were life expectancy was under 80 years.
Aside from Northern Territory – Outback, these were Queensland – Outback (78.8 years), Western Australia – Outback (79.4 years) and Far West and Orana (79.5 years).
All these areas are characterised by their relative remoteness, dispersed settlement pattern and a relative lack of access to advanced health services.
In 2017-2019, a child born in Australia has a life expectancy of 82.9 years.
Life expectancy increased significantly over the twentieth century due to advances in health and sanitation improvements.
gap between male and female life expectancy has converged, and is now about four years.
From a spatial perspective, life expectancy is higher in metropolitan areas, particularly in areas with higher socio-economic status.
Conversely, it is lowest in outback areas.
This is influenced by the higher proportion of Indigenous persons in the population, as well as a lack of access to quality health care and remoteness.
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