Despite recording a steady increase for the past several decades Australia's life expectancy has begun to stagnate, local research disclosed on Monday, with growing social inequality being blamed for the change.
The University of Melbourne led research analyzed data from Australia's death registry for 2006-2016, identifying socioeconomic status and geographic location as two major contributors to differences in life expectancy.
Australia has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, which in 2016-2018 was 80.7 years for males and 84.9 years for females, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
However, a slowing in the decline of premature deaths among lower socioeconomic and non-urban populations, has tempered growth in the population's overall life expectancy.
Meanwhile there has been no slowdown in the rate of mortality decline in the highest socioeconomic areas of major cities.
Between the ages of 35-74, the premature death rate for those of worse socioeconomic status was double that of those in the highest category.
Similarly, people living in the most disadvantaged geographic locations suffered a roughly 40 percent higher premature death rate than those in major cities, with the gaps widening in the early part of the century.
Co-leader of the research, Professor Alan Lopez from the University of Melbourne said decisive actions were required from government to address the issue, adding that the ongoing COVID-19 might worsen social inequality.
"Reducing this widening gap in mortality will require a significant shift in policy, with a stronger emphasis on the context and stressors prevalent among regional, rural and low socioeconomic groups," Lopez said.
"The advent of COVID-19 might well exacerbate this already unfavorable trend due to increased stress and unemployment hitting the least well off hardest, which could well have a flow-on effect in terms of poorer health behaviors and access to health care."
"This ought to be a key consideration in government policy responses to COVID-19," he said.