Australians are living longer than ever. But how does our cause of death vary depending on our age?


The median age for women who died was 85, while for men it was 78.

Heart disease remains our biggest killer overall, followed by dementia and Alzheimer’s, which was the main underlying cause of death among women.

Strokes, lung cancer, lung disease and bowel cancer make up the remaining leading causes of death.

So how does our likely cause of death vary by age?

Heart attacks remain by far the single biggest cause of death Australia wide, regardless of a person’s socioeconomic status or where they live.In 2017, a heart attack killed almost 18,600 Australians.

Chronic diseases feature more prominently among people aged 45 and over, while the leading causes of death among people aged under 45, remained external causes like car accidents and suicides.

Most children who died aged between the ages of 1 and 14 lost their lives in a car crash. The other leading causes of death in this age group were birth complications and defects, brain cancer, drownings and leukemia, the data shows.

Suicide was the leading cause of death among Australians aged between 15 and 44. It accounted for 35 per cent of all deaths in Australians aged between 15 and 24, and about one in five deaths for those aged 25 to 44.

For those aged between 15 and 24, car accidents accounted for about one in five deaths. This was closely followed by drug overdoses or injuries caused by an assault.

Drug overdoses and car accidents were also among the leading causes of death among people aged 25 to 44, alongside heart disease.

Breast cancer was the fifth highest killer in people aged between 25 and 64 and took the lives of almost 3000 women in total in 2017.

Australians over the age of 44 were more likely to be struck down by heart disease.

But lung cancer was the leading killer for those who died between the ages of 65 and 74.

Elderly Australians aged over 75 were more likely to die from heart disease, Dementia and Alzhiemer’s or a stroke than any other health conditions.

How causes of death and life expectancy have changed over time

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare keeps track of the cause of every death in the country, and this data is used to target public health campaigns and monitor potential disease outbreaks. Historical data exists on once-widespread diseases, which have been largely wiped from mainland Australia, as well as unusual causes of death such as being the “victim of cataclysmic storm” or being struck by lightning.

Exactly a century ago, the most common cause of death in Australia was influenza. This was at the height of the global Spanish Flu pandemic, which claimed the lives of about 15,000 Australians.

Masks were made compulsory during the Spanish flu outbreak in Australia in 1918-19.

Masks were made compulsory during the Spanish flu outbreak in Australia in 1918-19.Credit:National Museum of Australia

Back then, the life expectancy was 59.2 years for a man and 63.3 for a woman, but a baby boy born today can expect to live to the age of 80.5, while a baby girl has a life expectancy of about 84.6.

It means a baby girl born this year will likely be around to celebrate the dawn of the 22nd century.

And, in another piece of good news, a baby born in Australia is now more than 20 times more likely to survive the first four years of life than they were 100 years ago.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 , Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

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