Ever wondered how long you might live, and what the current projections are for Australians? These are natural considerations as you plan for retirement and older age.
Common thinking has it that we are living longer, with healthier lifestyles and advances in medical science. After all, knowing how to spend your super means knowing how long you may live!
Note: At the bottom of this article you can use our Life Expectancy calculator to estimate the average life expectancy for your sex and gender.
Life expectancy is a statistical measure on how long a person is expected to live, usually based on year of birth, current age and gender. Other factors also play a part, such as your living and working conditions, diet and lifestyle factors etc. Wars and plagues in certain years in history have thrown out typical measures.
Many of us probably know people in their 80s or even 90s. It’s startling to think back to the Middle Ages, when reaching your 30s was some achievement as many died as children or as teenagers. As recently as 1950, the world average was still only 48.
Life expectancy also needs to be viewed in parallel with mortality rates to get a better picture. The mortality rate is the number of deaths in a population per unit of time, generally per 1000 individuals. In 2017 the world crude death rate – the number of deaths per year, per 1000 people – was 8.33 per 1000. There are a variety of specific mortality measures, based on age and medical condition. (WHO, 2017).
Let’s take a closer look at both aspects and what it means for you.
Australia: Key life expectancy facts and figures
Australia has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. The most recent government actuarial figures (2014-2016) reported life expectancy for a newborn male is 80.4 years, and for a newborn female it is now 84.6 years. In the past 10 years, life expectancy has increased by 1.5 years for males and 0.9 years for females.
Life expectancy in Australia is 82.5 years, which is above the OECD average of 80.6 years. The table below highlights state variances, with VIC and ACT having the highest life expectancies, and the Northern Territory the lowest.
Life expectancy at birth, Sex, States and territories – 2005-2007 and 2015-2017
|State or territory of usual residence||2005-2007||2015-2017||Increase over 10 years|
|New South Wales||79.1||83.8||80.3||84.6||1.2||0.8|
|Australian Capital Territory||80.3||84.0||81.1||85.2||0.8||1.2|
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017
However, it is important to focus on mortality-improved life expectancies rather than just life expectancy at birth, often called period measures of life expectancy. This is because mortality rates change (improve) over time as a result of medical and lifestyle advances, benefiting those still alive. The table below illustrates why.
Measures of life expectancy
|Measure of life expectancy||Males||Females|
|Life expectancies at birth (used in global comparisons)||80.1||84.3|
|‘Period’ life expectancies for 65-year-olds today (ie people born in 1952/1953 who are still alive)||84.2||87.3|
|Mortality-improved life expectancies for 65-year-olds today (i.e. people born in 1952/1953 who are still alive)||87.1||89.3|
Source: Challenger Financial Services, 2018
In recent years, life expectancy for males has improved at a faster rate than that for women. Around 40 years ago (1976), life expectancy at birth in Australia was 69.4 years for males and 76.4 years for females, a gap of 7.0 years. The gap has now narrowed to 4.1 years in 2015-2017.
Life expectancy for indigenous Australians is lower by about 10 years, being 69.1 for males and 73.7 for females, although the gap is decreasing slightly.
The table below also provides a forward-looking projection from Treasury (2015).
Projected life expectancy of Australians (years)
|Life expectancy at birth|
|Further life expectancy at age 60|
|Further life expectancy at age 70|
Source: Treasury, 2015 Intergenerational Report
The increase in life expectancy at birth reflects declining death rates at most ages. Put simply, your life expectancy gets longer the longer you live – because the mortality rates decrease. David Orford’s recent article illustrates that life expectancy projections for older Australians and retirees must consider mortality improvements.
You can also calculate your own life expectancy from our calculator at the bottom of this article.
Another interesting table below is the historical life expectancy from birth in Australia since the 1880s, prepared by the Australian Government Actuary. This illustrates how the life expectancy for Australians has steadily increased over decades.
Historical life expectancy at birth, Australia
Source: Australian Government Actuary, 2012
Reaching the big 100
The last census in 2016 identified 3,569 Australians as being aged 100 or over – 777 males versus 2,788 females.
A number of projections use different methods to calculate the prospect of reaching age 100. Perhaps the most accurate (and similar enough) projections come from the Australian Government Actuary (AGA) and the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), where changes in mortality are accounted for.
AGA estimates it to be one in eight for a baby born in 2014 to reach age 100, or one in four if the rapid, recent 25-year improvement in mortality rates holds for the next 100 years. CEPAR also projects one in eight based on a similar method, but also accounting for specific micro patterns and aberrations between genders.
Over the past two decades, the number of people aged 85 years and over increased by 125.1%, compared with a total population growth of 34.3% over the same period.
Mortality up close
Leading causes of death continue to be heart disease, dementia-related diseases and lung cancer. The AIHW provides a clear breakdown of deaths for various age groups in the over 65 category on their website.
Leading underlying causes of death
|Cause of death||Number||Cause of death||Number|
|Ischaemic heart diseases||10,514||
Dementia, including Alzheimer disease
|Cancer of trachea, bronchus and lung||4,911||Ischaemic heart diseases||8,076|
|Dementia, including Alzheimer disease||4,870||Cerebrovascular diseases||5,884|
|Cerebrovascular diseases||4,302||Chronic lower respiratory diseases||4,089|
|Chronic lower respiratory diseases||4,268||Cancer of trachea, bronchus and lung||3,351|
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017
Although Australia has a low rate of infant mortality, the incidence of cancer (all malignant neoplasms) was second highest in Australia among 36 OECD countries. Australia also has more dementia-related deaths per capita than other high-income countries. Deaths from dementia-related diseases more than doubled between 2000 and 2016, making it the 5th leading cause of global deaths in 2016 compared to 14th in 2000. (OECD, 2018). In Australia, the number of deaths from dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease has increased by 68.0% over the past decade (ABS, 2017).
“Healthy” life expectancy
If one assumes life expectancies and mortality rates continue to improve over coming decades, what factors also come into play? We can’t assume that medical advances continue at the same rate as in the past. Despite better medical technology, life expectancy for those aged over 80 has changed by much less over the past century than for younger people. (Treasury, 2015)
As we live longer, quality of life becomes an issue and thus, a healthy life expectancy. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has provided estimates of the amount of years spent living without a disability. A male born in 2012 could expect to live 79.9 years (period method) and an average of 62.4 of those years without disability, and a female to live to 84.3 years, and an average of 64.5 of those years without disability. For Australians at age 65, more of their increase in life expectancy has been for years without any severe disability. (AIHW, 2018).
The large gains in life expectancy in recent decades is predicted to slow. Not surprisingly, better road safety, reduction in smoking, advanced medical care and consumer health knowledge have led these gains (CEPAR, 2018). On the flipside, obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, neurological disorders and mental health conditions pose an issue at a public health level, affecting quality of life.
New life expectancy statistics are due in late 2019, and we will provide further analysis when they become available.
Retirement income and life expectancy
A recent research report by CEPAR (Australia’s Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research) shows that low income Australians live five to six years less than high income Australians and are often in poorer health. This can be observed by considering the life expectancy in different parts of Australia.
While recent increases in life expectancy have been recorded across rich and poor regions, basic analysis suggests that every extra $1,000 in average wages for a region in 2012 translated to over one month more in average life expectancy in that region.
Life Expectancy calculator
You can use SuperGuide’s Life Expectancy calculator to see the average life expectancy for your sex and age. The estimates are based on the 2015 Australian Life Tables from the Australian Government Actuary.
Note that this is just an average life expectancy based on national statistics, and does not take into account any personal factors.
Just select your Sex and Age to get started.