The Australian mortality decline: cause-specific mortality 1907–1990


Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Sydney, NSW 2006. Fax (02) 9351 4179.


Abstract: This review describes the changes in composition of mortality by major attributed cause during the Australian mortality decline this century. The principal categories employed were: infectious diseases, nonrheumatic cardiovascular disease, external causes, cancer, ‘other’ causes and ill-defined conditions. The data were age-adjusted. Besides registration problems (which also affect all-cause mortality) artefacts due to changes in diagnostic designation and coding are evident. The most obvious trends over the period are the decline in infectious disease mortality (half the decline 1907–1990 occurs before 1949), and the epidemic of circulatory disease mortality which appears to commence around 1930, peaks during the 1950s and 1960s, and declines from 1970 to 1990 (to a rate half that at the peak). Mortality for cancer remains static for females after 1907, but increases steadily for males, reaching a plateau in the mid-1980s (owing to trends in lung cancer); trends in cancers of individual sites are diverse. External cause mortality declines after 1970. The decline in total mortality to 1930 is associated with decline in infection and ‘other’ causes. Stagnation of mortality decline in 1930–1940 and 1946–1970 for males is a consequence of contemporaneous movements in opposite directions of infection mortality (decrease) and circulatory disease and cancer mortality (increase). In females, declines in infections and ‘other’ causes of death exceed the increase in circulatory disease mortality until 1960, then stability in all major causes of death to 1970. The overall mortality decline since 1970 is a consequence of a reduction in circulatory disease, ‘other’ cause, external cause and infection mortality, despite the increase in cancer mortality (for males). (Aust N Z J Public Health 1998; 22: 37–44)