Sunday, July 1, 2012

What death looks like

This is a graph showing the total number of people who died in the United State in 2007 at every year of age, based on publicly-available data from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention. We see what one might expect: most people make it to old age, and then die in their 70s-90s. Very few people make it past 100.

There are a few cool and surprising things about this, though. First, see how few people die in childhood. Considering the great concern and caution with which many parents view their children's safety, it seems surprising that the parents are much more likely to die than the children. There is a single high-risk year in the first year of an infant's life, but if they get through their first year the risk sharply decreases. Let's zoom in on the early years a bit, excluding the Under-1 age.

The age at which children are seen as being at their most vulnerable, before adolescence, is when they appear to be least likely to die!

These graphs are imperfect because we don't know how many people are living in each year of age. The numbers drop off drastically after around 90 presumably because there are simply fewer people in their 90s and 100s alive, which means the population capable of dying is smaller. Likewise the narrow band of children dying could have been caused if Americans were simply having fewer children: there would be fewer to die. To check that I built death rates - the number of deaths per 10,000 living - by comparing the 5-year age groups for deaths in 2007 against the number living in the age groups for the 2010 Census.

Below we see our death rates. Unsurprisingly, the older one gets, the more likely one is to die. For every 10,000 people alive in the US between the ages of 10-14, fewer than two died in 2007. The death rate for those 40-44 years old was over ten times higher! Parents: your children are more likely to be orphaned by your death than to die themselves.

Why? The answer is that the big killers of humans overwhelmingly affect older people. From the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention again, the most common causes of death:

Children aren't particularly likely to die of heart disease or cancer or strokes.


  1. "Your children are more likely to be orphaned than die," is such a powerful way to look at things. Reminds us parents to prepare our children to be resourceful, rather than dependent on us -- sort of the OPPOSITE of helicopter parenting! Thank you for presenting the information this way! -- Lenore Skenazy, founder, Free-Range Kids

  2. Thanks Lenore, thought you would be interested :)


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