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Deaths and life expectancy

Statistics on deaths record the number of deaths registered in New Zealand each year. Life expectancy is an indicator of how long a person can expect to live on average given prevailing mortality rates. Life tables produced by Statistics NZ include information about life expectancy, and the probability of death and survival at various ages.

The following highlights are based on deaths registered in New Zealand:

  • There were 28,438 deaths registered in New Zealand in the year ended December 2010, comprising 14,223 male and 14,215 female deaths.
  • The median age at death in 2010 was 77.0 years for males and 82.9 years for females.
  • During the 2010 year, the number of infant deaths (under one year of age) registered in New Zealand totalled 325. Two decades earlier, 500 infant deaths were registered. (Infant deaths exclude stillbirths.)
  • In 2010, 50 percent of all infant deaths occurred within the first week of life.
  • The infant mortality rate in 2010 was 5.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • In 2010, there were 23,678 deaths of people belonging to the European ethnic group; 2,782 deaths of people belonging to the Māori ethnic group; 1,081 Pacific; 744 Asian; 83 Middle Eastern, Latin American, and African (MELAA); and 215 in ‘Other’. People may belong to more than one ethnic group and each death has been included in every ethnic group stated.
  • A newborn girl can expect to live, on average, 82.2 years, and a newborn boy 78.0 years, according to the New Zealand complete period life tables for 2005–07.
  • The difference between female and male life expectancy at birth narrowed from a peak of 6.4 years in 1975–77 to 4.1 years in 2005–07.
  • The 2005–07 period life tables indicate that life expectancy at birth for the Māori ethnic group is 70.4 years for males and 75.1 years for females.

Figure 4

Graph, Five-yearly change in life expectancy at birth, total population by sex, 1950–52 to 2005–07.

Deaths

There were 28,438 deaths registered in New Zealand during the year ended December 2010. This compares with 28,964 in the December 2009 year, and 26,531 in 1990.

The age distribution of people dying has changed significantly over recent decades, with an increasing proportion of deaths occurring in older age groups. This can be attributed to an ageing population, increased life expectancy, and the dramatic decline in infant mortality (now 30 percent of the rate 40 years ago). In the December 2010 year, three-quarters of the deceased were aged 67 years and over, with one-half aged 80 years and over. In contrast, only 5 percent of the deceased were under 40 years of age. By comparison, in 1990, three-quarters of deaths were of people aged 63 years and over, the median age at death was 75 years, and 9 percent of deaths were of people aged under 40 years.

Ethnicity

A breakdown of deaths registered during the year ended December 2010 in broad ethnic groups shows that 27,549 belonged to one ethnic group, 497 belonged to two ethnic groups, and 13 belonged to three or more ethnic groups. There were a further 379 deaths where ethnic group was not stated.

Multi-ethnic deaths accounted for 1.8 percent of deaths in the year ended December 2010. The small proportion (compared with 26 percent of births being multi-ethnic) partly reflects the ethnic structure of the older population, which is made up largely of people who belong to one ethnic group.

Death rates

The crude death rate for New Zealand was 6.5 deaths per 1,000 mean estimated resident population in the December 2010 year, down from 7.9 per 1,000 in 1990. For the Māori population, the crude death rate was 4.2 deaths per 1,000 in 2010. However, the crude death rate is influenced by the age structure of the population being measured, and does not give an accurate comparison of the mortality experience between populations or over time. The crude death rate for Māori is lower than that for the total population because of the younger age structure of the Māori population.

Life tables and standardised death rates are used to give a more accurate description of mortality. For example, when differences in population composition are taken into account by standardising for age, the standardised Māori death rate (6.3 per 1,000 in 2010) is higher than the standardised death rate of the total population (3.8 per 1,000).

Period life tables and life expectancy

According to the New Zealand complete period life tables for 2005–07, a newborn girl can expect to live 82.2 years on average, and a newborn boy 78.0 years. These levels represent longevity gains since 2000–02 of 1.0 years for females and 1.7 years for males. Two-thirds of these gains were due to the reduction in death rates among late working and retirement ages (60–84 years).

Since 1975–77, life expectancy at birth has increased by 6.7 years for females and 9.0 years for males. While differences in mortality between males and females still remain, their longevity gap has narrowed. Newborn females in 2005–07 can expect to outlive newborn males by 4.1 years, down from a peak of 6.4 years in 1975–77.

Māori life expectancy is significantly lower than that of non-Māori. Life expectancy at birth for females of Māori ethnicity in 2005–07 was 75.1 years, while male Māori life expectancy was 70.4 years. The difference of about 8.2 years between Māori and non-Māori is slightly less than the estimated difference of 8.5 years in 2000–02 and 9.1 years in 1995–97.

The 1995–97, 2000–02, and 2005–07 period life tables for Māori and non-Māori have been derived using data from the new ethnic question on the birth and death registration forms (introduced in September 1995), and therefore are not comparable with earlier life tables. Life tables for other ethnicities, such as the broad Pacific and Asian ethnic groups, have not been produced because of the small size of these ethnic populations, relatively few deaths, and the general uncertainty associated with ethnic identification and measurement.

The latest abridged period life tables, produced for the total population only, indicate that the life expectancy at birth was 82.7 years for females and 78.8 years for males for the period 2008–10.

Infant mortality

The New Zealand infant mortality rate (deaths of children under one year of age per 1,000 live births) has fallen significantly over the last four decades. In the year ended December 2010, the infant mortality rate was 5.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 16.8 per 1,000 in 1970. Over the same period, the neonatal mortality rate (deaths of babies aged less than four weeks per 1,000 live births) fell from 10.3 per 1,000 to 3.2 per 1,000. In the December 2010 year, 34 percent of infant deaths occurred in the first 24 hours after birth, 50 percent within the first week of life, and 63 percent within the first four weeks of life.

Cohort life tables and life expectancy

The cohort life tables track the deaths/survivors of each birth cohort (people born in the same year) at each age over their lifetime. The cohort life tables indicate that life expectancy at birth increased between the 1876 and 1936 birth cohorts, from 50.4 years to 71.3 years for males, and from 54.0 years to 76.3 years for females. Both the level and rate of change in life expectancy at birth are higher than implied by the period life tables, because of the progressive decline in mortality with successive birth cohorts.

Life expectancy is the average length of life of a group of people from a given age. The death of the last survivor of a birth cohort is therefore needed before life expectancy (at any age) can be calculated. Some remaining survival and mortality experience has been projected at ages above 74 years to complete the life tables for birth cohorts up to 1936. For cohorts born after 1936, other life table measures such as death rates at different ages and proportions dying by different ages are still available.

The cohort life tables also indicate that the impact of war deaths on the mortality experience of New Zealand males has been hugely significant. Without the direct impact of deaths in World War I and II, life expectancy at birth would have been five years higher for males born in the mid-1890s and three years higher for males born in the late-1910s.

Subnational life expectancy

Subnational mortality and longevity trends should be interpreted with caution. Death and population numbers can fluctuate from period to period. In addition, the stated residence of the deceased may not reflect the geographic area(s) where that person spent most of their life.

Although New Zealanders’ life expectancy at birth increased by 9.0 years for males and by 6.7 years for females between 1975–77 and 2005–07, there are some significant regional differences in life expectancy. According to the 2005–07 abridged period life tables for regional council areas, life expectancy at birth ranged from 73.8 to 79.4 years for males, and 78.1 to 83.2 for females.

The regional period life tables indicate that five regions have experienced both male and female life expectancies at birth that are consistently above the New Zealand average over the last decade: Auckland, Wellington, Tasman, Canterbury, and Otago. Conversely, life expectancy in the Gisborne region was significantly below the national average, with both male and female life expectancy being over four years lower than the New Zealand average in 2005–07. Other regions with life expectancies consistently below the national average over the last decade were Northland, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu-Wanganui, West Coast, and Southland. Life expectancies in the remaining regions (Waikato, Taranaki, Nelson, and Marlborough) varied above and below the national average.

There are 40 territorial authority areas where death and population numbers are considered sufficient to produce abridged period life tables for 2005–07. However, because of fluctuations in death and populations numbers, these abridged period life tables should be interpreted with caution.

The reasons for subnational differences in longevity and mortality are difficult to identify precisely, and are probably due to a combination of interrelated factors, including the proportion of the population who are Māori, the proportion of the population who smoke (or have smoked), the proximity to health and hospital services, the degree of urbanisation, and socio-economic factors.

More information

The following information on deaths and life expectancy is available on the Statistics NZ website:

Time-series data is available from the Infoshare database. Deaths and life expectancy data are available from the following subject groups in the Population category:

  • Deaths – VSD
  • Death Rates – DMM
  • Demography Life Expectancy – DLE.
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