Objective: To assess the extent of changes in life expectancy at birth for the Indigenous population of the Northern Territory (NT) over the period 1967–2004, and to determine which age-specific mortality rates were mostly responsible for such change.
Methods: Life expectancy at birth figures were obtained via life table calculations using a high-quality and internally consistent dataset of NT Indigenous deaths and populations covering the period 1967–2004. A life expectancy at birth age decomposition technique was then applied.
Results: Indigenous life expectancy at birth has risen considerably in the NT, increasing from about 52 years for males and 54 years females in the late 1960s to about 60 years for males and 68 years for females in recent years. Significantly, for NT Indigenous females the gap with total Australian life expectancy has narrowed.
Conclusions: In contrast to popular perception, Indigenous life expectancy in the Northern Territory has improved substantially from the late 1960s to the present.
Implications: The widespread pessimism that surrounds Indigenous health and mortality is largely unfounded, at least for the NT. Although much remains to be done to reduce Indigenous mortality, the results in this paper demonstrate that improvements are occurring and that sustained and increased effort is worthwhile and will succeed.