How big is the indigenous gap?

Sources: Economist, ABS

Sources: Economist, ABS

This week’s Economist has a sobering article about the gap between black and white america. It included a graphic of various statistics, showing the difference between black and white america on a range of measures. It also showed how the two compared with various countries around the world – for example, the life expectancy at birth of black americans is closest to that of Tunisia, whereas for white americans, it is closest to life expectancy in Chile. I wondered how Aboriginal Australians compare so I’ve compiled the table above.  I’ve reviewed many of these statistics before, but I was still shocked at the gaps.

I’ve written about life expectancy for Aboriginal Australians before – the gap between indigenous Australian and non indigenous Australian life expectancy is about 10 years (much worse than the gap between black and white americans). But what about the other measures?

One of the most appalling measures is the incarceration rate. As the Economist notes, there is no other country in the world that incarcerates its people as much as the US. And black americans are three times as likely to be incarcerated as a random american, and six times more likely than a white american. At any given time, 2.2% of all black americans (that includes babies), are in jail.

But indigenous Australians are not much better off. Indigenous Australians are seventeen times more likely to be incarcerated than non indigenous Australians. They are almost as likely as black americans to be incarcerated at any given time – 2.2% of them are in jail at any given time. According to the Economist, an incredible one-third of black men in their 30s have been in prison.

I haven’t found this statistic for indigenous Australians, but it isn’t likely to be much less, given the prison population at any given time.

And the homicide rate for indigenous Australians (that’s the rate that they die from being murdered, not the rate that they commit homicide) is 7 times that of non indigenous Australians.

So for each of the measures, what is the comparable country?

  • Homicide – with a homicide rate of 5.7 per 100,000, indigenous Australians are as likely to be murdered as Argentinians or Laotians.
  • Incarceration – Indigenous Australians are basically just as likely as black americans to be in prison. There is no country in the world with an overall incarceration rate that high.
  • Life Expectancy – Indigenous Australians have an overall life expectancy of 72 years. That’s the same as Cambodians, or Guatemalans.
  • Infant Mortality – Indigenous Australians have an infant mortality rate of 6.1 per 1,000 live births. That’s about the same as Slovakia, and actually not much worse than the whole of the US (which is 5.9).

My Australian statistics aren’t quite the same as the Economist’s (I suspect there are small differences in the dates used), but the gaps are right. I have a full list of the various ABS sources below.

Mortality and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians

Life expectancy

4517.0 Prisoners in Australia, 2014

4510.0 – Recorded Crime – Victims, Australia, 2013


  1 comment for “How big is the indigenous gap?

  1. Loic
    July 19, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Hi Jennifer
    I read an article a few months ago about the gap between black Americans males and females, because of early death and incarceration rate of black males.
    In some counties, the rate between males and females is as low as 0.63 and as a consequence, tilted the relationship very strongly in favour of males.

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