Covid temporarily reduced Australia’s average life expectancy and lifted death rates to historic highs

Centre for Population report shows 129,000 people died between January and August 2022, 17% higher than average for the period

The pandemic temporarily cut Australia’s average life expectancy and raised death rates to historic high levels, new population data shows.

According to the Centre for Population report, released in full on Friday, nearly 79% of all Australian Covid deaths occurred in the first eight months of 2022, as governments lifted restrictions and eased mask rules.

About 129,000 people died in Australia between January and August 2022, 13.2% more than died in the same period in 2021 and 17% more than the historical average.

Of those 129,000, some 7,700 died of Covid. That is six times more than died of Covid in all of 2021.

The first week of August was the deadliest, with a total of 4,200 people dying – of all causes, not just Covid. That’s a death rate more than 20% above the historical average.

The high number of deaths led to a temporary statistical decrease in average life expectancy, reducing by 0.4 years in 2021-2022, down from 85.3 years for girls born from 2018-2020 and 81.2 years for boys born from 2018-2020.It is not expected to correct until 2023-2024.

In the next decade, the life expectancy of Australian men is predicted to hit 83.5 years, while for women it will reach 87 years.

Dr Liz Allen, a demographer at the Australian National University, said the CFP report showed the direct and indirect impact of Covid on Australians. But she said the change in average life expectancy “doesn’t mean your life prospects have shrunk”.

“It is a population change which reflects the lives lost from Covid – in particular, older people,” she said.

Allen said it also reflected the changes Covid has made to long-term population predictions.

The report predicts Australia’s population will reach 29.9 million in June 2033, with the rate of growth declining from 1.4% to 1.2%. That’s about or 1.2 million fewer people than previously predicted.

The median age of the population is also forecast to rise from 38.4 to 40.1 over the next 10 years.

“It shows that Australia is going to be older, bigger, with a shrinking workforce,” she said. “More reliant on migration, cities reign supreme and we risk the young having to shoulder the economic burdens of tomorrow.

“Young people are already facing uncertainty, with climate change, unaffordable housing, insecure work and gender inequality pressures. So the main question is: what are we going to do with this information, so young people don’t carry the weight of this future?”

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has spent the week making the case for migration as one of the solutions to Australia’s encroaching “demographic challenge”.

Allen said Australia was most likely in for a few more years of pain when it came to population growth.

She said she was heartened by the shift in language from the federal government in response to the report, but questioned whether the migration policies would be put in place to support population growth.

“In the not too distant future, deaths are predicted to increase and births will decrease, which will see us more reliant on migration as an economic requirement, to ensure our workforce is sufficient,” she said.

“Overall, this is not new in the grand scheme of things. We have had this information for some time. The question is, how will this government use this information to make change in policy?”

A review on Australia’s migration system is due in the first quarter of this year. The findings from the Centre for Population report will also inform the employment white paper and the next intergenerational report, the government has said.


Amy Remeikis

The GuardianTramp

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