Closing the Gaps: competing estimates of Indigenous Australian life expectancy in the scientific literature

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Closing the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and other Australians within a generation is central to national Indigenous reform policy (Closing the Gap). Over time, various methods of estimating Indigenous life expectancy and with that, the life expectancy gap, have been adopted with differing, albeit non-comparable results. We present data on the extent of the gap and elucidate the pattern of use and interpretations of the different estimates of the gap, between 2007 and 2012.


An extensive search was conducted for all peer-reviewed health publications citing estimates of and/or discussing the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians, for the period 2007–2012.


Five predominant patterns of citation of the gap estimates were identified: 20 years, 17 years, 15–20 years, 13 years, and 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females. Some authors misinterpret the most recent estimates as reflecting improvement from the 17-year figure, rather than the result of different methods of estimation. Support for the direct methods used to calculate Indigenous life expectancy is indicated.

Conclusions and Implications:

A specific estimate of the life expectancy gap has not been established among stakeholders in Indigenous health. Agreement on the magnitude of the gap is arguably needed in order to evaluate strategies aimed at improving health outcomes for Indigenous Australians. Moreover, measuring progress towards ‘closing the gap’ depends on the availability of comparable estimates, using the same techniques of measurement to assess changes over time.

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