From Our 2012 Archives

U.S. Death Rates Drop 60% in 75 Years

Risk of Dying Decreased for All Ages and Races; Biggest Drop in Young

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 13, 2012 -- Death may be inevitable, but a new report shows the risk of death isn't what it used to be.

Researchers found the risk of dying has dropped by 60% over the last 75 years.

The CDC report on trends on death rates in the U.S. shows the risk of death has decreased for all age groups, but the biggest improvement has been among young people. The death rate among children aged 1-4 declined 94% from 1935 to 2010, compared with a 38% decline among adults aged 85 or more.

Top Causes of Death

In 1935, the top five causes of death were heart disease, cancer, stroke, kidney disease, and flu/pneumonia. By 2010, the report shows some causes of death have changed, but many remained the same.

Heart disease, cancer, and stroke were among the top five causes of death every year between 1935 and 2010. By 2010, chronic respiratory diseases and accidents replaced kidney disease and flu/pneumonia in the top five.

"In the most recent period from 1969 to 2010, significant progress in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of [heart disease and stroke] likely contributed to the 41% decline in age-adjusted mortality despite cancer continuing to increase from 1969 to 1990 and chronic lower respiratory diseases continuing to increase from 1969 to 1998," researcher Donna Hoyert, PhD, of the National Center for Health Statistics, writes in the report.

Death Rate Differences by Age, Sex, and Race

The report shows death rates between 1935 to 2010 dropped by more than 50% for all but the oldest age groups.

The biggest reduction was among the young, but declining death rates were also seen among the elderly. For example, death rates dropped by 62% among people aged 65-74, 58% among those 75-84, and 38% for people 85 and older.

Researchers say the gap in death rates between men and women peaked in 1975-1981 at 1.7 male deaths per female death and has since narrowed to 1.4 in 2000-2010. Men have consistently had a higher death rate than women over the last 75 years.

The difference in death rates between races was greatest between 1988 and 1996, with 1.4 deaths among blacks per death among whites. This difference in death rates declined to 1.2 by 2008.

SOURCE: Hoyert, D. "75 Years of Mortality in the United States," NCHS Data Brief, March 2012.

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