The scandalous health inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

Australians are pretty healthy overall, but not all Australians are equally healthy. The starkest inequality in Australians’ health outcomes is between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

A non-Indigenous baby boy can expect to live 80.2 years; an Indigenous baby boy only 71.6 years, a gap of 8.6 years. The gap is only slightly smaller for girls, at 7.8 years.1

It’s not just about geography – life expectancy for Indigenous boys born in a major city is 8.6 years shorter than non-Indigenous city boys.

It’s also not just about socio-economic disadvantage. Non-Indigenous Australian boys born in the most disadvantaged areas have a life expectancy of 77.9 years; for Indigenous boys it’s 68.2 years. At the other end of the advantage spectrum it’s a similar story – life expectancy for Indigenous boys born in the most advantaged areas is 9.3 years shorter than for non-Indigenous boys.2

The gap in life expectancy is falling a little. But the pace of change is too slow to close the life expectancy gap by 2031, a national goal that was agreed to more than a decade ago. It’s also possible that the change in the life expectancy gap is just statistical noise; so far, it is not statistically significant.

Less than half of Indigenous Australians (48 per cent) diagnosed with cancer survive for another five years. For non-Indigenous Australians, the figure is 59 per cent.

In general, Indigenous Australians are about twice as likely than other Australians to die from conditions that could have been treated or prevented. Again, this isn’t just about Indigenous people being more likely to live in very remote areas; the inequality is evident even in capital cities.

None of this should be news to Australians. There’s been report after report on the need to close the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – in health and in so many other domains of life. But the fact that this information is well known should not inoculate us to its importance.

A life expectancy gap of ten years between groups of Australians is a national scandal. It must be a major focus of public policy for whoever wins the 2019 federal election.

  1. These figures are all from the ABS.
  2. The measure of disadvantage used here is the ABS Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage; see here for an explanation. The ‘most disadvantaged areas’ figures refer to the bottom 20 per cent; the ‘most advantaged’ are the top 40 per cent.