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Ministry of Social Development.
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Regional Comparison
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Life expectancy


Life expectancy at birth indicates the total number of years a person could expect to live, based on the mortality rates of the population at each age in a given year.


Life expectancy at birth is a key summary indicator of fatal health outcomes, ie the survival experience of the population.

Current Level and Trends

In the period 2000-2002, life expectancy at birth was 76.3 years for males and 81.1 years for females. Since the mid-1980s, gains in longevity have been greater for males than for females. Between 1985-1987 and 2000-2002, life expectancy at birth increased by 5.2 years for males and 4.0 years for females.

With the decline in the infant mortality rate (from 11.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1986 to 4.9 per 1,000 in 2003), the impact of infant death on life expectancy has fallen. The gains in life expectancy since the mid-1980s can be attributed mainly to reduced mortality in middle aged and older age groups (45-84 years). Reduced mortality rates are due to generational effects, better living standards, and improved public and personal health care.

Figure H2.1 Life expectancy at birth, by sex, 1985-87 to 2000-02
Figure H2.1
Source: Statistics New Zealand (2004)

Ethnic Differences

There are marked ethnic differences in life expectancy. In 2000-2002, male life expectancy at birth was 77.2 years for non-Māori and 69.0 years for Māori, a difference of 8.2 years. Female life expectancy at birth was 81.9 years for non-Māori and 73.2 years for Māori, a difference of 8.7 years.

The pace of improvement in life expectancy has varied by ethnic group. For non- Māori, there was a fairly steady increase in life expectancy at birth over the period from 1985-1987 to 2000-2002, males gaining 5.8 years and females 4.5 years overall. For Māori, there was little change during the 1980s, but a dramatic improvement in the five years to 2000-2002. While the gain in Māori life expectancy over the whole period 1985-1987 to 2000-2002 (4.1 years for males, 2.7 years for females), was less than that for non-Māori, Māori gained more than non-Māori in the most recent five-year period. As a result, the gap in life expectancy at birth between non-Māori and Māori, which widened by 2.4 years between 1985-1987 and 1995-1997, reduced by 0.6 years in the five years to 2000-2002.

Figure H2.2 Life expectancy at birth, by ethnic group and sex 1950-52 to 2000-02
Figure H2.2
Source: Statistics New Zealand /Ministry of Health
Note: Figures for 1981-1986 have been adjusted for undercount, using Statistics New Zealand estimates for 1986.

Socio-Economic Differences

There is an association between life expectancy and the level of deprivation in the area where people live. In 1998-2000, males in the least deprived 10th of small areas in New Zealand could expect to live 9.5 years longer than males in the most deprived 10th of small areas (meshblocks with median populations of at least 90 people). For females, the difference was smaller, but still substantial, at 5.6 years. These figures clearly illustrate the links between socio-economic status and health.13

International Comparison

In 2000, New Zealanders' life expectancy at birth was 80.8 for females and 75.7 years for males. This was equal to the OECD median of 80.8 years for females, and close to the OECD median of 75.2 years for males. New Zealand was ranked 14th out of 27 countries for females, and ninth equal for males. New Zealand's ranking was more favourable than this in 1960 (sixth for males, seventh for females). Over the 1970s and 1980s, longevity improved faster in other OECD countries than in New Zealand. In the 1990s, faster than average gains in life expectancy in New Zealand improved its relative position. In 2000, life expectancy at birth was best for females in Japan (84.6 years) and best for males in Iceland (78.0 years). For females, life expectancy was slightly higher in Australia and Canada (both 82 years) than in New Zealand, similar in the United Kingdom (80.2 years) and slightly lower in the United States (79.5 years). The pattern was similar for males: Australia (76.6 years), Canada (76.7 years), the United Kingdom (75.4 years) and the United States (74.1 years).14

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