The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) regularly publishes statistics about deaths and mortality rates across Australia, including its states, territories and sub-state regions. Statistics in the latest release relate to the number of deaths registered during the 2021 calendar year.
Registration of deaths is the responsibility of the state or territory's Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Information about the deceased is acquired from a Death Registration Form which is completed by the funeral director, based on information supplied by a relative or other person acquainted with the deceased, or by an official of the institution where the death occurred.
The ABS Death Registrations collection includes data on all deaths that occurred, and which were registered in Australia. That means it also includes deaths of persons whose place of usual residence was overseas. Deaths of Australian residents that occurred outside Australia may be registered by individual Registrars, but are not included in ABS death statistics. Interestingly, deaths of identified Australian diplomats while overseas are included.
The number of deaths registered in 2021 (171,469) increased by 10,169 compared to the 2020 (161,300) registrations. All jurisdictions recorded an increase in death registrations in 2021. This follows lower death counts in 2020, after the introduction of public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The standardised death rate (SDR) increased to 5.1 deaths in 2021, as compared to 4.9 in 2020. The SDR measure enables the comparison of death rates between populations with different age structures by relating them to a standard population - the Australian population as at 30 June 2001 - and is expressed as deaths per 1,000 standard population.
Age and sex distribution of deaths
Nationally, there were more male deaths (89,401) than female deaths (82,068), resulting in a sex ratio of 108.9 male deaths for every 100 female deaths. In every age group spanning 0-84 years, there were more male deaths than there were female deaths, except at age 85-89 and onwards where more female deaths were recorded.
The median age at death:
- was 79.4 years for males
- was 84.8 years for females
- for males increased by 0.5 since 2020
- for females increased by 0.2 since 2020
- has increased by 1.0 years for males and 0.3 years for females over the past decade
Age-specific death rates were under one death per 1,000 population for age groups below 35-39 years (except age 0), with the lowest rates in age groups 5-9 years and 10-14 years for both males (0.1) and females (0.1). These rates more than doubled between the age groups of 45-49 years (1.7) and 55-59 years (3.9), then progressively increased for each subsequent age group for both sexes.
Deaths registered by state and territory
Over three-quarters (77.5%) of deaths registered were to usual residents of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland combined.
The median age at death was highest in South Australia for both males (80.2 years) and females (85.9 years), and lowest in the Northern Territory at 66.8 years and 68.2 years respectively.
- was highest in the Northern Territory (7.2 deaths per 1,000 standard population), followed by Tasmania (5.6)
- was lowest in the Australian Capital Territory (4.6)
- has decreased in all states and territories
- has decreased the most in both Tasmania (5.6 from 6.4 in 2011) and the Northern Territory (7.2 from 8.0 in 2011), then New South Wales (5.1 from 5.8 in 2011) and Victoria (4.9 from 5.6 in 2011)
Infant deaths are defined as deaths of children aged less than one year. These increased by 66 deaths to 1,009 in 2021 (559 boys and 450 girls). This was a 7.0% increase compared with the number registered in 2020 (943). Over the past ten years, the number of infant deaths has decreased overall from 1,140 in 2011.
Australia has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. The infant mortality rate was 3.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which is similar to the rate of 3.2 recorded for 2020 and a decrease from 2011 (3.8).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
In 2021, there were 4,081 deaths registered where the person was identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. This represents an increase of 18 deaths nationally from 2020.
New South Wales recorded the greatest increase with 1,206 deaths as compared to 1,155 in 2020. The Northern Territory recorded the next largest increase with 545 deaths, up from 507 in 2020. The number of deaths in Victoria decreased from 341 deaths in 2020, to 256 deaths, and Western Australia’s deaths decreased from 626 deaths in 2020 to 604 deaths in 2021.
Deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more widely spread across younger age groups, whereas deaths of non-Indigenous people are concentrated in the older age groups. This reflects higher birth rates and lower life expectancy in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population compared with that in the non-Indigenous population.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people five state/territory data
The ABS report specifies that commentary on median ages, age-specific death rates, SDRs and infant mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people encapsulates data from five states jurisdictions only: New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
The median age at death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 61.7 years, up from 56.7 years a decade ago. For non-Indigenous people, the median age was 82.0 years, compared with 81.3 years a decade ago.
Age-specific death rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were higher in all age groups than those for non-Indigenous people, but decreased in most age groups (with the exception of 45-54, 55-65 and 75+ years age groups) compared with ten years ago. The broader 25-54 years age group had the highest age-specific death rates compared to the non-Indigenous population.
The SDR for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
- was 9.5 deaths per 1,000 standard population (the same as ten years ago)
- for males fell to 10.6 from 10.8 ten years ago
- for females remained the same at 8.4 deaths over the same period
- was highest in the Northern Territory at 12.9 and lowest in New South Wales at 7.8
The infant mortality rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 5.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 3.1 deaths for non-Indigenous people. The rate was the highest in the Northern Territory (of the five jurisdictions) in both the 2009-2011 (13.0) and 2019-2021 (13.4) periods. It is noted that the rate fluctuated over the ten-year period for all five jurisdictions due to the small and variable number of registered infant deaths.