the gains have continued at a steady rate over the last 40 years (Figure 6). Since 1972, there has been a gain of just over 5 years in the life expectancy at birth of men and 4.5 years in women. Women live longer on average than men. In 1993-95, life expectancy at birth was 73.7 years for males and 79.1 years for females (Statistics NZ 1997a). Much of the recent improvement in life expectancy has come from reductions in death rates in middle aged and older adults, especially the declining rates of cardiovascular disease. However, as a nation New Zealand has a lower life expectancy than several other comparable countries including Australia. Our relative position in comparison with other OECD countries has slipped from 8 th of 24 countries in 1960 to 19 th of 24 countries in 1995 for females, and from 6 th to 13 th for males (NHC 1997). The gap in life expectancy between Ma ¯ ori and non-Ma ¯ ori closed significantly between 1950 and 1990, demonstrating a reduction in Ma ¯ ori/non-Ma ¯ ori health inequalities (Figure 6). However, the gap between Ma ¯ ori and non-Ma ¯ ori persists. Based on the most comprehensive recent data, in 1991-92 a new-born non-Ma ¯ ori male child had a life expectancy 5.4 years longer than his Ma ¯ ori counterpart and for females, the difference was 6.2 years. In addition, as Ma ¯ ori life expectancy has not increased since 1990, the gap between Ma ¯ ori and non-Ma ¯ ori is widening again.
The Social, Cultural and Economic Determinants of Health in New Zealand: Action to Improve Health 40 A Report from the National Health Committee Figure 6. Life expectancy at birth in New Zealand 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 1950-52 1955-57 1960-62 1965-67 1970-72 1975-77 1980-82 1985-87 1990-92 1993-95 1996 Year of birth Years Non-Mäori females Non-Mäori males Mäori females Maori males Source: Statistics New Zealand Summary Life expectancy in New Zealand has increased considerably over the past 100 years. Women now live on average 5½ years longer than men. Since 1960, life expectancy in New Zealand has not increased as fast as in many other OECD countries. The gap between Ma ¯ ori and non-Ma ¯ ori life expectancy closed significantly between 1950 and 1990. Since 1990, Ma ¯ ori life expectancy has not increased while non-Ma ¯ ori life expectancy has continued to increase. 2.2.5 Health status of Ma ¯ ori As the above data indicate, there has been a significant improvement in Ma ¯ ori health status over the past four decades, yet it continues to lag behind that of non-Ma ¯ ori. The data are not perfect; for example, information on ethnicity is not collected reliably and has been collected in different ways over time. Ma ¯ ori experience an excess burden of mortality and morbidity throughout life, starting with a higher infant mortality rate (mainly due to SIDS), higher rates of death and hospitalisation in infancy, childhood and youth (predominantly from injuries, asthma and respiratory infections), and higher mortality and hospitalisation rates in adulthood and older age (especially due to injuries, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and most cancers) (Pomare et al.
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