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The persistent challenge of inequality in Australia’s health


Australia remains a country with significant health inequalities. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that although Australians have a life expectancy of 82 years — one of the highest among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries — and the second lowest overall mortality of OECD countries, there are inequalities in age-standardised mortality rates among population groups ( In 2009–2011, males had a mortality rate 1.5 times that of females; people living in remote and very remote areas had a rate 1.4 times that of people in major cities; people living in the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) areas had a rate 1.3 times that of those in areas with the highest SES; and the mortality rate for Indigenous Australians was almost twice that for non-Indigenous Australians. These differences remained much the same as 10 years earlier. Yet not all mortality differences were negative. For example, Asian-born Australian residents had a mortality rate 36% lower than Australian-born residents.

The AIHW estimates that if all Australians had the same death rates as those in the highest SES group, there would have been 6013 fewer deaths from lung cancer — Australia’s leading cause of cancer deaths — in 2009–2011. If Australians…