Aboriginal life expectancy
Aboriginal health standards in Australia are now so low that almost half of Aboriginal men and over a third of women die before they turn 45.
Aboriginal quality of life is the second worst on the planet—only China rates worse.
- Number of years Indigenous Australian people die earlier than their fellow Australians from diseases, such as renal failure, heart disease, diabetes and many other health problems.
- Projected life expectancy for men at birth in 2050. Same figure in 2008: 79, in 1998: 76.
- Percentage of the life expectancy gap attributed to chronic diseases such as heart disease (22%), diabetes (12%) and liver disease (11%) .
- Median age of Indigenous people at death, 25 years less than for the Australian population as a whole. In some regions the median age at death is as low as 47 years.
- Projected life expectancy for women at birth in 2050. Same figure in 2008: 84, in 1998: 82.
Aboriginal people can expect to live up to twenty years less than non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous life expectancy is so low because Aboriginal health standards in Australia are now so bad that 45% of Aboriginal men and 34% of women die before the age of 45. 71% die before they reach the age of 65. 
According to the United Nations, the quality of life of Aboriginal people is the second worst of the planet—only China rates worse .
I always say that when we lose an old person, we lose a library… language and culture.—Lola Forester, Aboriginal radio presenter 
Aboriginal life expectancy comparison
To calculate Aboriginal life expectancy across countries the UN compared health statistics of Indigenous people in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand over the past 10 years.
Australian Aboriginal people’s life expectancy is by far the worst. They die 20 years before the average non-Indigenous Australian dies.
The average life expectancy of Australian Aboriginal people is 59.6 years and has remained steady between 1990 and 2000 . American Indians and Alaskan natives lived an average 70.6 years over that period, also remaining steady. But life expectancy for Maoris and Canadian Aboriginal people improved from 67.7 to 71.1 years and from 70.6 to 72.9 years respectively.
The difference in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people was the greatest for Australia: Non-Indigenous Australians live on average 20 years longer than Aboriginal Australians. For the other nations, the gap is between 4 and 10 years.
Causes for this poor health and low life expectancy include:
- poor nutrition,
- poor housing,
- dispossession of their traditional lands,
- low education level,
- high unemployment,
- hidden racism and
- inability of politicians to address Aboriginal problems.
“Adequate primary health care services can bring about dramatic results,” says former Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma .
The life expectancy of native Americans increased by about 9 years, between 1940 and 1950, after such services were provided. The life expectancy of Maori in New Zealand increased by 12 years from the 1940s to the 1960s, attributed to the same reason.
Australian life expectancy figures might be all wrong
While the life expectancy figures presented above are bad news by themselves, the truth might be even worse which has led to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to adjust its methodology in 2009.
Is the life expectancy gap larger?
According to academics, 50% of death forms filled out by undertakers don’t identify if the deceased is of Aboriginal descent or not .
We can't really even track changes to say yes, things are on the way up or no, they're getting worse.—Prof Tony Barnes, Charles Darwin University
With no accurate statistics on the number of Indigenous people dying each year it is impossible to calculate Aboriginal life expectancy and any progress on closing the life expectancy gap.
Two estimates of Indigenous life expectancy in 2008 differed by as much as five years, providing contradictory messages on the magnitude of the life expectancy gap and rendering any mortality rate calculation unreliable .
Hence the Australian Bureau of Statistics had to use a ‘semi-theoretical’ approach for its calculations and has done so since 1996 because census results are ‘unreliable’.
The 20-year life expectancy gap which was identified in 1973 might still be there, but no-one knew for sure or could tell if it has widened instead.
Really, there's no change [of the life expectancy gap].—Prof Len Smith, Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute
A new methodology to calculate the life expectancy gap
Consequently, in May 2009, the ABS introduced a new methodology to “better compensate for a significant undercount of Indigenous death records” .
According to the “experimental figures” released by the ABS the life expectancy gap has narrowed .
The new figures calculate life expectancy at birth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians at 67.2 years for men and 72.9 years for women for 2005-2007, 11.5 years lower than for non-Indigenous men and 9.7 years lower than for non-Indigenous women.
According to the ABS, “the life expectancy estimates were derived using a new method which drew on information from the ABS Indigenous Mortality Quality Study conducted in 2006-07 as part of the Census Data Enhancement Project” which “improved the quality and robustness of the estimates”. 
A gap of either 10 or 17 years is utterly unacceptable in a country like Australia that prides itself on a fair go for all.—Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 
Last updated: 22 March 2013 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
 UN Human Development Report 2003, Associated Press article 4/2004
 UN Human Development Report 2003, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
 'Death forms undermine promises', NIT 157, 10/7/08
 'Closing the gap won't happen with current data: research', NIT 27/11/2008 p.5
 'New estimates of Indigenous life expectancy released : ABS', www.abs.gov.au, retrieved 10/6/2009
 'Gap closer - if you believe the figures', Koori Mail 452 p.7
 'Bold and beautiful', Koori Mail 470 p.21
 ReconciliAction Network, reconciliaction.org.au/nsw/education-kit/health/, accessed 5/1/2011
 'Health myth rejected', Koori Mail 497 p.10
 'Life of Aborigines second worst on earth', www.theage.com.au, 28/4/2004
 'Preventable disease is a big killer', Koori Mail 501 p.43
 'Going backwards', Koori Mail 418 p.52
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