While investigating causes of death in the United Kingdom, I came across the data above. The graph shows that the age-standardised mortality in the UK has been falling since at least 1980 – and shows no signs of stopping.
Indeed, if the trend continues, then sometime around the 14th March 2048, mortality will reach zero and no one will die in the UK!
Now of course, although this data is real and correct, the trend can’t possibly continue indefinitely. But the data is nonetheless fascinating for at least three reasons.
Firstly, in the face of seemingly endless stories telling us all how unhealthy we are – it seems that the trend to lower mortality is continuing unabated, despite the obesity ‘crisis’.
Secondly, although the linear trend in the data is striking, we have no justification for extrapolating the trend into the future. Why? Because its the future! And we don’t know what is going to happen in the future.
And finally, these numbers give us a scale for considering the relative seriousness of different causes of death: that was the reason I looked up the data in the first place.
I read that air pollution causes 30,000 deaths a year in the UK and that seemed a surprisingly large number. From the graph we can estimate that mortality in 2014 is approximately 1000 deaths per 100,000 of population per annum. So that that for the UK population of 60 million, this is about 5% of deaths – which still seems shockingly high, but is a smidgeon closer to believability.
So good news all round: especially if you, like me, are a man. The mortality of men and women is shown separately below.
If the trend continues, then after millennia of ‘excess male mortality’, the mortality of men should fall below that of women in approximately 2027 and reach zero in 2042 – before the women – who will not attain immortality until 2060!
Dave asked: Are you sure age standardised mortality means what you think it does? Age standardised mortality might drop to zero. But that is not mortality. If the plot showed mortality that would suggest life expectancy has doubled since 1980, from 50 to nearly 100.
And I replied: The calculation is this:
- How many people died in a particular year aged (say) 69.
- This number is then expressed as a fraction of the actual UK population who were aged 69.
- This is then expressed as an actual number who would have died in a ‘standard population’ called the European Standard Population.
This procedure allows the relative mortality in different countries to be compared
So, if for example, the UK has a high absolute mortality for 69 year-olds, but not many 69 year olds – then this will produce a larger number when ‘age standardised’.
I have obtained one or two sets of actual death data – but I don’t know the equivalent population to divide by to get the absolute mortality per 100,000. However this data shows a similar trend with roughly the same intercept.
What does it mean? I don’t know! I think it means that we are living longer (Is that news?). I was just struck by how straight the line was and how it begged to be extrapolated!