Cautiously optimistic note on Indigenous life expectancy 


Aboriginal men and women are living longer in the Territory, according to the latest research by researchers from Charles Darwin University.

CDU demographers Dr Tom Wilson and Prof. Tony Barnes, and Menzies School of Health Research epidemiologist Dr John Condon recently published their finding that the life expectancy of Aboriginal women has increased by 14 years over the past four decades – and Aboriginal men by eight years.

This means an Aboriginal woman’s life expectancy, which was 54 in the 1960s, has increased to 68. The male life expectancy has shifted from 52 to 60. (Life expectancy Australia-wide for women is currently 84, and 79 for men).

Dr Wilson, from the School for Social and Policy Research, says the research statistics confirm that Indigenous people can expect to live longer lives in the 21st century.

He says that dramatic declines in infant mortality have been instrumental in driving these life expectancy increases, and additionally, in recent years, there have been falls in middle and older age adult mortality.

The estimates of Indigenous life expectancy are the result of a detailed Indigenous demographic database constructed by Dr Condon, based on death registrations and official population estimates for 2001. Covering the period 1967 to 2001, and recently extended to 2004, this database contained the information needed to calculate life expectancy trends for the Territory.

This is the first time such a database has been constructed for any state or territory in Australia, and is made possible only because Indigenous demographic data is of high quality in the Territory.

Dr Condon says that although life expectancy has slowly improved over the last 40 years, the most important issue is the very large gap in life expectancy for Aboriginal compared to other Australians, which reflects the serious health problems that Aboriginal people still face.

‘Over the past 40 years the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and other Australians closed only a little for women, and not at all for men. With greater effort, we can increase the rate of improvement and close this gap as has occurred for indigenous peoples is countries like New Zealand and the United States. Improvements are occurring, but far too slowly and for some health problems, particularly chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, mortality rates have increased in recent years,’ he says.

The research is published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, volume 31, no. 2.