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There has been a long and continuing decline in death rates in Australia. Over the period 1907 to 2014, the age-standardised death rate for males fell by 71% and by 75% for females.

Death rates have historically been higher for males than for females; however, the gap is closing over time. The gap was its largest in 1968, when the rate difference between male and female age-standardised death rates was 642 deaths per 100,000 population, and narrowest in 2014 (187 deaths per 100,000 population).

The reduction in rate difference between male and female rates since 1968 has largely been driven by the reduction in deaths due to circulatory diseases. This was influenced by several factors, including improvements in surgical techniques, hospital care, diagnosis and pharmaceuticals, as well as modifications to lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet and high blood pressure. See more on Mortality inequalities in Australia.

Figure 1: Age-standardised death rates, by sex, 1907–2014

The line graph shows that age-standardised death rates decreased overall from 1907 to 2014. For males, the age-standardised death rate decreased from 2,234.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 1907 to 646.0 in 2014. For females, the age-standardised death rate decreased from 1,844.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 1907 to 459.0 in 2014. Throughout the entire period, the age-standardised death rate was lower for females compared with males. Age-standardised death rates peaked in 1919, at 2,417.6 for males and 1,958.6 for females.

Source: AIHW GRIM books (Table S1).

Trends by cause of death

The decline in deaths in the first half of the last century was associated with factors such as control of infectious disease and better hygiene and nutrition. The decline in the later years was associated with improvements in road safety measures, falls in smoking rates, and improvements in prevention, detection and treatment of disease such as cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. See more on Mortality over the twentieth century in Australia.

Circulatory diseases have consistently been a leading cause of death for Australians over the last century, but death rates have been steadily declining. Deaths from circulatory diseases peaked in 1968 at 830 deaths per 100,000 population (age-standardised rate), and have since dropped to 154 deaths per 100,000 population in 2014. Cancer (all neoplasm) deaths, after adjusting for differences in age structure, peaked in 1985 (217 deaths per 100,000 population) and have gently declined to 164 deaths per 100,000 population in 2014.

Age-standardised rates of deaths due to respiratory diseases and injury and poisoning declined over the last century.

Figure 2: Age-standardised death rates, by broad cause of death, 1907–2014

The line graph shows that the age-standardised death rates for deaths due to respiratory diseases, injury and poisoning, and infectious diseases decreased from 1907 to 2014. The age-standardised death rate for deaths due to circulatory diseases over the same period peaked in the 1960s before declining rapidly. The age-standardised death rate for cancers (all neoplasms) remained relatively stable from 1907 to 2014.

Source: AIHW GRIM books (Table S2).

Further information

AIHW 2006. Mortality over the twentieth century in Australia: trends and patterns in major causes of death.

AIHW 2014. Mortality inequalities in Australia 2009–2011.

AIHW GRIM (General Record of Incidence of Mortality) books.

Source data