How Americans Die
America is growing older.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the conversion of America's age pyramid into a rectangle from 1960 to 2050, as was shown in a recent post highlighting America's two 'slow-motion' social dramas. As the Pew Institute summarized "we'll have almost as many Americans over age 85 as under age 5. This is the result of longer life spans and lower birthrates. It’s uncharted territory, not just for us, but for all of humanity. And while it’s certainly good news over the long haul for the sustainability of the earth’s resources, it will create political and economic stress in the shorter term, as smaller cohorts of working age adults will be hard-pressed to finance the retirements of larger cohorts of older ones."
And as society comes to grips with the realization that the average age of America will hit new record highs with every passing day for the indefinite future, a new, and far less pleasant topic is sure to gain prominence. Namely: how Americans Die.
This should be intuitive: since older people die sooner than the young, even despite the generally declining mortality by age cohort, the sheer record number of aged Americans will soon drown out the incremental improvements in life expectancy.
But it is not only age that is a key issue: one surprising finding (in addition to a curious tangent of a brief spike in AIDS-related deaths in the late 80s and early 90s for the 25-44 year old cohort), is that over the past decade, motor vehicle accidents has lost its top spot as the primary cause of violent deaths across the population, handing over the title to both drug-induced deaths and suicides.
Incidentally, in 2010, the number of suicide deaths was nearly four times greater than the number of Americas murdered by firearm. Perhaps it is time to ban suicides.
All these and many other curious observations surrounding this fascinating topic are revealed in the following interactive visual data compendium by Bloomberg's Matthew Klein.
So without further ado, here is a detailed look into How Americans Die.
First, it should be obvious that courtesy of numerous, life-extending advances over the past several decades, the morality rate has tumbled. Yet in recent years, it has been mostly males who have benefited. Overall progress stopped in the mid-1990s.
However the lack of improvement can be attributed to a simple factor: the aging of Americans, and specifially those aged 55 and over have risen as a total portion of the population from a little over a fifth of total in the year 2000 to a quarter currently.
Another obvious observation: old people die sooner than the young
Instead of breaking down the population into genders, looking at age cohorts over time shows a plunge in mortality across all age groups, with the biggest beneficiaries being Americans 25 and under.
However, something curious appears in the 25-44 age group sometime in the late 1980s...
That something was AIDS...
The AIDS epidemic was so bad for about a decade, the disease became the single largest killer of Americans in their prime, surpassing cancer, heart disease, and all other causes of death.
Of all races, however, the AIDS epidemic targeted mostly black men between 25 and 44.
Another curious observation: there has been no progress in mortality for the 45-54 year olds since the late 1990s.
This quandary is further compounded by the reduced mortality of cancer and heart disease - the biggest traditional killers of this age group - over the past several decades.
So what is the offset? Simple - a surge in deaths from two new killers - suicide and drug deaths.
As noted earlier, while until the mid-1990s, gun deaths outnumbered drug deaths, since then the number of gun murders has actually declined, while drug deaths have exploded. As have suicides. Actually perhaps it is time to ba suicides and drugs. Oh wait, somehow the pharma lobby wouldn't be too happy with that.
As for cars, no need to ban those: motor-related deathes have plunged to a record low, even with seemingy everyone texting and driving.
Safer roads, however, have been more than offset by an explosion in suicides, with representatives of the 25-44 age group most likely to take their lives.
Still, despite all of the noted curious patern shifts, the reality remains that most Americans are living longer and dying of natural causes.
If there is any bad news here, it is that as Americans get older they increasingly succumb to such debilitating, age-related diseases as dementia and Alzheimer's. Indeed, while there has been substantial progress in heart disease-related deaths, the total number of deaths in the 75 and older category has remained flat, precisely due to the increasing prevalence of such age-degenrative conditions.
Which means one thing is certain: the amount of spending on Alzheimer's and other age-related diseases is set to soar.
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