Australia performs well on many health measures. Australians are living longer—with more of those years lived in good health—and generally rate their health well. Australia also performs well internationally on a number of health measures—see International comparisons of health data—however, these country-level findings can obscure issues affecting specific population groups. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people generally experience poorer health than other Australians. See Indigenous health and wellbeing for more information.

Key health measures help inform us about how healthy all Australians are. See What is health? for a description of health measures presented here. Health measures can be grouped into an indicator framework to provide an overall view of the health of, for instance, particular groups or for a nation. Australia’s health performance framework is an interactive data visualisation tool that measures Australia’s health and health care performance.

Life expectancy

Life expectancy at birth in Australia is continuing to rise (Figure 1). In 2018 life expectancy at birth was 80.7 years for males and 84.9 years for females (ABS 2019b). Australian males had the ninth highest and Australian females had the seventh highest life expectancy at birth among the 36 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in 2018 (OECD 2019b).
 

This chart shows that life expectancy at birth in Australia has increased steadily from 1886 to 2018 for males and females, aside from a brief decrease in the 1960s. Females have consistently had life expectancy roughly five years higher than males. The rate of increase has slowed in the last decade, but is still increasing.

Life expectancy measures how long, on average, a person is expected to live based on current age and sex-specific death rates. Life expectancy changes over the course of a person’s life because as they survive the periods of birth, childhood and adolescence, their chance of reaching older age increases. Men aged 65 in 2018 had 19.8 expected years of life remaining and women aged 65 in 2018 had 22.6 expected years (ABS 2019b). Among the 36 OECD countries in 2018, Australian men ranked third and Australian women ranked seventh for life expectancy at age 65 (OECD 2019a).

Health-adjusted life expectancy

While Australians are living longer, it is important to understand whether people are spending more years in good health or more years living with illness. The measure of health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) can be used to understand this. HALE estimates, on average, how many years a person will live in full health.

As life expectancy has increased, so too has HALE—males born in 2015 were expected to have 2.0 more years of healthy life than males born in 2003, and females born in 2015 could expect 1.3 more years of healthy life (AIHW 2019). These gains in healthy years are comparable to the gains in life expectancy. But we are still living the same number of years in ill health in 2015 as we were in 2003—8.9 years for males and 10.2 for females (Figure 2).
 

This chart shows that life expectancy at birth in full health has increased between 2003 to 2015 for both males and females. The years lived in ill health has remained roughly the same in this period.

HALE at birth for males and females in 2015 in Remote and very remote areas was 5.2 and 5.8 years shorter, respectively, than for those in Major cities (AIHW 2019). See Rural and remote health for more information.

HALE is also unequal between socioeconomic areas—see ’Longer lives, healthier lives?’ in Australia’s health 2020: data insights.

Disability-adjusted life years

We can assess the current health status of the population by looking at the impact of living with illness and dying early. We call this the ‘burden of disease’ and express it as disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). DALYs measure years of healthy life lost, either through premature death (fatal burden) or from living with illness or injury (non-fatal burden). See Burden of disease for more information.

The Australian population has seen reductions in disease burden. Between 2003 and 2015 the rate of burden decreased by 11% from 208 DALYs per 1,000 population to 184 per 1,000 after adjusting for population increase and ageing (AIHW 2019).

However, there is an unequal distribution of disease burden across population groups. The total burden rate in the lowest socioeconomic areas was 1.5 times as high as in the highest socioeconomic areas. The rate was 1.7 times as high for fatal burden. Total disease burden would be 20% lower if all areas had the same rates of burden as the highest socioeconomic areas (Figure 3). See Health across socioeconomic groups for more information.
 

This chart shows that disease burden decreases with increasing socioeconomic position. The lowest socioeconomic area has a total disease burden rate of above 200 DALYs per 1,000 population, while the highest socioeconomic area has a total disease burden rate of below 150 DALYs per 1,000 population. These increases are in both non-fatal and fatal burden rates. Australia’s average total disease burden is roughly 180 DALYs per 1,000 population.

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Self-assessed health status

Based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey (NHS) estimates, more than half (56%) of Australians aged 15 and over self-assessed their health as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ in 2017–18—the same as the proportion in 2014–15 (56%). Australians self-assessed their health less positively as they aged—68% of those aged 15–24 self-assessed their health as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’, compared with 42% of Australians aged 65 and over (Figure 4) (ABS 2018).
 

This chart shows that Australians’ self-rating of their health status becomes more negative as they age. From the 15-24 age group to the 65 and over age group, there is a consistent increase in Australians rating their health as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’, and a decrease in ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.

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People with disability assessed their health more poorly than people without disability. In the 2017–18 NHS, 24% of adults with disability assessed their health as ‘very good or excellent’, compared with 65% of adults without disability (ABS 2019c). See Health of people with disability for more information.

Mortality and morbidity

Death rates are usually used to measure mortality, while morbidity measures include incidence of illness and injury, disease prevalence and comorbidity.

In Australia, death rates at a given age have continued to decline since at least the early 1900s. See Causes of death for more information.

Chronic diseases are the leading cause of premature death, ill health and disability (see Chronic conditions and multimorbidity). For disease-specific measures of mortality and morbidity, see Health status snapshots in Australia’s health snapshots.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the health of Australians, see:

Visit Burden of disease and Life expectancy & deaths for more on this topic.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. National Health Survey: first results, 2017–18. ABS Cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019a. Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2016. ABS Cat. no. 3105.0.65.001. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019b. Life tables, states, territories and Australia, 2016–2018. ABS Cat. no. 3302.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019c. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18, unit record file. ABS Cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Finding based on microdata analysis.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 4. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2019b. Life expectancy at birth. Geneva: OECD.

OECD 2019a. Life expectancy at 65. Geneva: OECD.