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Statistics reveal causes of death

Official figures rank heart disease as the big killer and show the impact of COVID-19.

  • Health
  • Read Time: 5 mins

A new report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals some interesting facts about causes of death.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death overall and for all age groups 45 years and older – until 85, when dementia begins to claim most lives.

Heart disease has been the leading killer for decades, but it tends to discriminate on gender. In 2022, heart disease claimed more men (11,303), than women (7,340).

From 1968 until 2015, cerebrovascular diseases – that’s strokes and aneurysms – were the second most common cause of death. They have been replaced by dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. 

Various types of cancer, including lung and colorectal, have also been in the top five causes of death for older Australians over the decades.

For young Australians it’s a different story. Suicide is the leading cause for Australians aged 15 to 44, and traffic accidents are in the top three causes.

In 2022, COVID-19 emerged as a leading cause of death – the first time an infectious disease has been in the top five since 1970.

COVID accounted for 9,859 of all 190,939 deaths. During the long lockdowns, the COVID death toll was low compared with other countries, but it skyrocketed when the international borders were reopened, and restrictions were lifted.


The proportion of all deaths that can be attributed to the top five leading causes has changed over time.

In the late 1960s, 70s and most of the 80s, these leading causes accounted for more than 50% of all deaths, with ischaemic (blood-flow-related) heart diseases responsible for as much as 30% of all deaths alone.

Since 1990, the proportion attributable to the top five leading causes fell below 50% and has steadily declined since then. In 2022, these causes accounted for about one-third of all deaths, with heart diseases accounting for less than 10% of all deaths for the first time in the past 55 years.

The ABS says the number of deaths in Australia is expected to increase over time due to our ageing population.

However, the age-standardised rate typically is expected to decrease. (There can be fluctuations, for example due to a severe influenza season).

This expected decrease in the mortality rate is due to factors such as improved medical care and treatments leading to longer life expectancy.

The increase in the number and rate of deaths in 2022 led to Australia recording higher than expected mortality.


For those whose death was attributed to COVID-19:

  • Median age at death was 85.8 years – higher than the median age at death for all-cause mortality, which was 82.2 years.

  • Nearly 56% of overall deaths were men (5,484 male deaths and 4,375 female deaths) and there were more male deaths in each age group.

  • Pneumonia was the most common acute disease outcome and was present in 41.7% of COVID deaths in 2022.

  • Cardiac conditions were the most commonly reported pre-existing conditions and were present in 33% of COVID deaths in 2022.

  • NSW (3,608) and Victoria (2,956) had the highest number of deaths.

For those who died with COVID-19 as a contributory condition:

  • The most common underlying cause of death was dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (489 deaths). 

  • The median age at death was 83.8 years. 

Related reading: ABS, ABC

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