Australian attitudes to funerals and death are changing. We perceive funerals with growing acceptance rather than resistance and are opting for relaxed and reflective funerals rather than solemn and serious ones. We are unlikely to pre-plan our funerals, and two thirds of us prefer cremation over burial.

In Australia the age of dying is increasing, with the highest number of deaths occurring in the 85 to 89 age bracket (comprising 1 in 5 of all deaths), and our life expectancy has risen to 82 years of age.

McCrindle was recently commissioned by the Australian Funeral Directors Association (AFDA) to gain on understanding of Australian perceptions towards funerals and deliver a statistical snapshot of death in Australia. Below is a brief synopsis, with expanded research results and demographic trends available for download in the Deaths and Funerals in Australia Research Summary.  

Death rates declining

While tax rates might be rising death rates in Australia are actually declining. Even though Australia’s population is larger than ever (23.5 million) and growing faster than ever (405,400 in the last year), Australia’s death rate continues to decline (6.5 deaths per 1,000, down from 6.9 a decade ago). Australia has more than twice as many births as deaths with more than 300,000 annual births and less than 150,000 annual deaths (147,098 in 2012).

Although more men die each year than women, (74,794 men in 2012, 72,304 women), the gap is decreasing from a decade ago when 107 men died for every 100 women, to 103 men for every 100 women currently.

Seasonal deaths: winter is Australia’s ‘death season’

‘The death season’ in Australia comprises our winter months, June July and August. Deaths in June are 11% above the monthly average, July is 26% and August 24% above the average. In summer of 2012 there were 25,617 deaths and in winter that same year Australia saw 41,926 deaths, an increase of 64%.

While Victoria hosts a deadly winter (66% increase in deaths compared to summer 2012), because of warmer weather, the Northern Territory does not have a noticeable winter and the deadliest month in the top end is January, and has been for the last 4 years.

Age of death increasing

The highest death numbers in Australia occur in the five year age bracket 85 to 89. This age group saw 19% of all deaths occur in 2012, making up 1 in 5 deaths for that year, despite 85-89s comprising just 1.2% of the population. Of the 279,684 Australians aged 85-89 in 2012, approximately 1 in 10 of them (27,885) died that year. Of the 3,299 Australians aged 100 and over in 2012, 2 in 5 of them (1,369) died in that year.

While those in their twenties recorded one of Australia’s lowest death rates, three times as many males (1,134) die in their twenties as do females (420).

Infant deaths declining

Infant deaths continue to decline even though we are setting new birth records (310,600 last year). While in 2002 the number of infant deaths recorded 397, this figure dropped to 312 ten years later. As total numbers of infant deaths continue to decline, so does the infant mortality rate from 4.6 (deaths per 1,000 live births) in 2002 to 3.2 ten years later in 2012.

Significant variability of state death rates

Western Australia had the lowest death rate of any state or territory (5.5 per 1,000 people), while the Northern Territory had the highest (7.9).

When measured by death rates, the deadliest place to live is Katherine in the Northern Territory (death rate 13.6), and the safest place to live is North Sydney (death rate 3.8). There is still a significant life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. For non-indigenous Australians, the median age at death for males in 2012 was 78.7 and females was 84.7, whereas for indigenous Australians the median age of death for males was 55 and for females it was 61.3. All of the Local Government Areas with the highest death rates are areas with higher indigenous populations than the national average.

Death rates in some localities is four times that of others

State

Lowest Death Rate in State

Local Government Area

Highest Death Rate in State

Local Government Area

NSW

3.8

North Sydney

9.4

Bourke

VIC

4.3

Stonnington

7.9

Central Goldfields

QLD

5.2

Sunshine Coast

8.9

Murweh

SA

4.2

Mitcham

10.1

Ceduna

WA

4.0

Perth

11.0

Derby-West Kimberley

TAS

5.8

West Tamar

8.8

Derwent Valley

NT

6.7

Darwin

13.6

Katherine

Country of birth

Of the 147,098 deaths in Australia in 2012, 320 people died who were visiting Australia (non-residents), 45,393 were Australians born overseas and 101,385 were Australians born locally.

Australian men born in the Ukraine have the highest male median age of death at 87.8 years of age, followed by Poland (87.3), Estonia (87.2) and Lithuania (87.2). In fact, Australian men born overseas had a greater life expectancy (79.8) than Australian born males (78.0).

Australian women born in Estonia have the highest longevity with a median age of death at 90.1, followed by those born in Latvia (88.9), Russia (88.4) and Lithuania (88.0). Australian females born overseas had a comparable median age of death (84.6) as those born in Australia (84.7).

About this study

This research was conducted through detailed analysis of ABS datasets and a nationally representative survey of 519 Australians over the age of 50 conducted in April 2014. The research will be presented by Mark McCrindle at the AFDA 2014 National Convention in Darwin, NT, on 1 June 2014.

Click here to download the research summary.