How long do New Zealanders live for?

Dead body in morgue
Our chances of living longer have skyrocketed since the 1970s. (Getty)

It's a question many of us don't want to face: how long are we likely to live for?

The good news is that because we live in New Zealand, the odds of us making it into our 80s are very strong indeed.

Kiwis have an average life expectancy of 81.4 years, OECD data shows. 

Breaking that down by gender, Kiwi women have a life expectancy of 83.2 years, while Kiwi men are at 79.5.

What we learned

  • New Zealanders live longer than people in most countries but have high rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
  • Māori have lower life expectancy than non-Māori, living as long as people in China or Mexico.
  • Most countries have seen marked increases in life expectancy since the 1970s - except for Russia. 
  • India has seen the most dramatic rise in life expectancy.
  • South Africa has the lowest life expectancy of any country associated with the OECD.

We're living longer than ever

There's been a marked increase in how long New Zealanders are expected to live since the 1970s.

Four decades ago the average life expectancy for Kiwis was just over 71.5, so we're expected to live for 10 years longer today. 

Newshub has selected 16 countries at both ends of the scale to compare how long its citizens are expected to live now - compared to projections in the 1970s.

The life expectancy for some countries has increased by more than 20 years in four decades; while others such as Russia's have stayed almost the same.

How long do New Zealanders live for?

As you can see, nations who have greatly developed their economies since the 1970s, such as South Korea, Turkey and India have seen the most marked increase in life expectancy.

Life expectancy in India was a mere 48.8 years in the 1970s, but now citizens of the world's second most populous nation can expect to live until they are almost 70.

Developed nations such as Japan, New Zealand and the UK have all seen an increase of roughly 10 years since the 1970s, and this aligns well with longer life spans due to advances in health care and the decline of smoking rates.

Life expectancy in Russia and South Africa has actually stagnated, with both remaining very low over the past four decades.

How are we dying?

The two main causes of death in most countries are cardiovascular disease (heart attack or stroke) and cancer.

In New Zealand our rates for both of these causes of death are actually very high for a developed nation.

The Heart Foundation of New Zealand say 33 percent of all Kiwi deaths is caused by cardiovascular disease, that's one death every ninety minutes.

According to OECD data, New Zealand's heart disease rate of 138 deaths per 100,000 people is four times that of Japan's, and almost one and a half times that of Australia's.

New Zealand's rate pales in comparison to that of some Eastern European countries however, with Estonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic all having double the rates of heart disease as New Zealand, while Slovakia has a rate four times as high.

Cancer remains a massive killer in New Zealand, with OECD data showing our rate of 210 cancer deaths per 100,000 people is greater than Australia, the United States and Canada.

The UK, the Netherlands and Denmark have higher cancer rates than New Zealand.

Māori life expectancy much shorter than non-Māori

The gap in life expectancy between Māori and non-Māori has closed in recent years, but still remains high.

The Ministry of Health say life expectancy at birth for a Māori male is 73.0 years, while Māori females are expected to live to 77.1 years.

That's far lower than the national average of 81.4 years.

The life expectancy of Māori then is similar to people who live in Turkey or Brazil.

Māori also have far higher rates of cancer death than non-Māori, and lung cancer is still the biggest killer of Māori females due to high smoking rates.

According to the Ministry of Health, the biggest killers of Māori apart from lung cancer are heart disease, suicide and diabetes.

Heart disease remains the biggest killer of non-Māori, while motor vehicle deaths remain high for both non-Māori and Māori males.