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The Ageing of the New Zealand Population, 1881-2051 - WP 03/27

8  Life expectancy at age 65

Having reached age 65, how much longer can the average person expect to live? Table 5 shows estimates for 1911, 1961, and 2001. The numbers shown are “cohort” life expectancies, as opposed to the conventional “period” life expectancies. Cohort life expectancies allow for the fact that mortality rates continue to change after the reference date; period life expectancies assume that mortality rates remained fixed at their original level. The estimates for 2001 in Table 5 are based on Statistics New Zealand’s median mortality assumption. If, as the previous section argues, the median assumption is somewhat pessimistic, then actual life expectancy at 65 in 2001 was higher than these estimates suggest.

Table 5 – Cohort life expectancy at age 65
Non-Maori Total population
Year 1911 1961 2001
Males 12.6 12.9 18.2
Females 13.8 16.6 21.9

Sources – 1911 and 1961 estimates from Cheung (1999 : Appendix Table 9) 2001 estimates calculated from data on the median mortality assumption for 2001-base projections, presented in customised tabulations from Statistics New Zealand

Life expectancy at age 65 increased far more quickly between 1961 and 2001 than between 1911 and 1961, particularly for men. Reductions in mortality rates have become increasingly concentrated in the older age groups. Some writers have argued that these improvements in mortality rates have not been matched by improvements in health status (Fries 1980). As part of an on-going study of health expenditures, a team from the Ministry of Health and Treasury has conducted a review of the international literature on trends in health status. The review was confined to studies using longitudinal survey data. The conclusion of the review was that, within each age group, health status probably has been improving over the long run. Seventy-year-olds now, for instance, tend to be healthier than seventy-year-olds 20 years ago.

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