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Life Insurance

What are the leading causes of death in Australia?

2023-06-29 04:30

Death can be a taboo topic to talk about, despite it happening to us all.

While most of us don’t know how or when we’ll die, information on the leading causes of death in Australia can help us reflect on our own health and lifestyle choices, and what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones’ financial future.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found in 2020 that 12 per cent of men died from coronary heart disease – the leading cause of death. This disease was the second leading cause of death for women; the first being dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at 12 per cent. Cerebrovascular disease (including stroke), lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer comprise the top five underlying causes of death in Australia for men and women of all ages combined.

The top 10 causes of death for men and women in 2020


  1. Coronary heart disease
  2. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease
  3. Lung cancer
  4. Cerebrovascular disease
  5. Prostate cancer
  6. COPD
  7. Diabetes
  8. Colorectal cancer
  9. Suicide
  10. Accidental falls


  1. Dementia and Alzheimer's disease
  2. Coronary heart disease
  3. Cerebrovascular disease
  4. Lung cancer
  5. Breast cancer
  6. COPD
  7. Colorectal cancer
  8. Diabetes
  9. Heart failure
  10. Accidental falls

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Health 2020 Report

Death and survival rates in Australia

There has been a long and continuous decline in death rates for Australians, with the gap between life expectancies for men and women closing. According to AIHW the reduction in death rates can be attributed to the improvements in modern medicine such as hospital care and pharmaceuticals and Australians becoming more educated about their health over the years.

Taking preventative measures such as quitting smoking, being sun smart and regular skin checks, plus mammograms, prostate exams, and pap smears has contributed to improved survival rates from cancer. Thirty years ago about five in 10 people survived for at least five years after their cancer diagnosis; more recent figures are closer to seven in 10.

Sadly, suicide has crept into the top 10 causes of death in Australian men. The AIHW reports that suicide takes an average of nine lives per day – which is more than two times that national road toll and affecting young men in particular.

In 2021 suicide was the leading cause of death among people aged 15-44.

Life insurance and suicide

Usually we associate life insurance with deaths from cancer, stroke or heart attack. Life insurance generally covers these, but many assume a claim related to suicide won’t be accepted. This is incorrect – some insurers will cover this but have exclusion periods on claiming for suicide of 13-24 months from the date of taking out the policy. 

There are government-funded support programs available to all Australians to help manage mental health. People can claim Medicare rebates for up to 10 sessions with a mental health professional each year as part of a mental health care plan. If a counselling/psychology provider bulk bills, there will be no out-of-pocket expenses to speak to someone.

Protecting yourself with life insurance

How much cover you need comes down to your own personal circumstances, such as the number of dependents you may have, size of debts and what life stage you’re at. Life insurance provides beneficiaries with a lump-sum payment if you die, or an early payment if you’re diagnosed as being terminally ill.

Thinking about death and its common causes can be upsetting, but it’s important to create peace of mind and protect your loved ones’ financial future with protection in place.

Find out more about the different types of life insurance and have your big questions about life insurance answered.

What are the leading causes of death in Australia?

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Insurance can help protect you and your loved ones from the unexpected. We've partnered with Zurich Australia – one of Australia's largest and most experienced life insurers – to help you take care of yourself and the ones who rely on you.

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