View from abroad: Why Aussies live longer than Britons

Australia has for the first time entered an exclusive club of countries where men can expect to live to more than 80 years old, according to official figures.

While women in the country have had a life expectancy of around 84 for a couple of years, the figure for men has continued to soar, and broke through the 80 mark for the first time in a release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Thursday.

Up to 80.1, it represents a remarkable rise in male life expectancy since the 77.8 recorded just 10 years ago.

Australia now joins Switzerland, Japan and Iceland in being able to boast that both its men and women can expect to reach an 80th birthday or beyond. That compares to around 78.9 for baby boys born today in the UK.

Life expectancy is not simply down to the average wealth of a nation - the US is one of the richest countries in the world, yet ranks around 40th in the world for how long its citizens can expect to live.

So what makes Australians so long-lived? The OECD, the organisation committed to the development of some of the world's 34 richest countries, has tried to provide an explanation - and it essentially boils down to an outstanding health system.

"Australia's universal health care system is one of the best in the world," the organisation says, with an above-average £2,400 spent on healthcare per person in 2010.

Just because we are living longer doesn't mean we are living healthier

Australia has also seen a sharp decline in tobacco consumption, which the OECD says contributes to chronic diseases - and therefore lower life expectancies - across its countries. It attributes this to public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation.

Speaking about the time it took men to get to the 80-year mark - which female life expectancy reached in Australia in 1990 - ABS's director of demography, Denise Carlton, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "It's taken men nearly a quarter of a century."

"But having crossed the elusive 80-year threshold in the 1990s, improvements in expected lifespan for women has since slowed down, increasing by around four years over the period; it's 84.3 now."

Despite Australia's impressive achievement, Dr Zakia Hossain, a demographer and sociologist at the University of Sydney, told the newspaper she was cautious about singing the praises of an ageing population.

"Just because we are living longer doesn't mean we are living healthier," she said. "An ageing population needs to have adequate services. These are major issues that need to be looked at."


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