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Reductions in mortality in the early part of the 20th century have been attributed to improvements in living conditions, such as better water supply, sewerage systems, food quality and health education. The continuing reduction in mortality in the latter half of last century has been attributed to improving social conditions, and to advances in medical technology such as mass immunisation and antibiotics. The past two decades in particular have seen further increases in life expectancy. These increases are due in part to lower infant mortality, fewer deaths among young adults from motor vehicle accidents and fewer deaths among older men from heart disease. The reduction in the number of deaths from heart disease has been related to behavioural changes, such as dietary improvements and reduced smoking, as well as medical advances.
During the 20th century the life expectancy of new-born girls was consistently higher than that of new-born boys, with this difference peaking at about 7 years in the 1970s and early-1980s. The difference is largely due to significant declines in heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease mortality among women. In recent years, the gap in life expectancy between new-born males and females has narrowed to 5 years in 2001-03. This can be attributed to the large reductions in death rates of males aged 45 years and over, and particularly to the reduction in heart disease deaths among males.
The increase in life expectancy for older persons has implications for retirement planning and income policies. Life expectancy of 65 year olds has increased from 14 years for males and 18 years for females in 1983, to 18 years for males and 21 years for females in the period 2001-03.
Australians have a life expectancy at birth which compares well with that experienced in other developed nations. Life expectancy at birth of males in Australia (78 years) was exceeded only by Hong Kong (SAR of China) and Iceland (both at 79 years). Israel, Japan, Macao (SAR of China), Sweden and Switzerland all shared with Australia a male life expectancy at birth of 78 years. Life expectancy at birth of Australian females (83 years) was exceeded only by Hong Kong (SAR of China) and Japan (both at 85 years). France, Iceland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland all shared with Australia a female life expectancy at birth of 83 years.The life expectancy of new-born babies in Australia was higher than in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America. Map 5.37 shows the combined male and female life expectancy at birth for the global population.
5.37 LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH, By country - 2000-05
Source: United Nations Population Division, 'World population prospects: The 2004 revision', viewed 22/07/05, <http://www.un.org>.
A life table is a statistical model that is constructed from the death rates of a population at different ages. It is frequently used to express death in terms of the probability of dying. In its simplest form, a life table is generated from age-specific death rates and the resulting values are used to measure mortality, survivorship and life expectancy. Table 5.36 shows the expectations of life at specific ages for Australian males and females in the period 2001-03.
Table 5.38 provides summary measures of mortality for census years between 1954 and 1986, and individual years between 1993 and 2003.