Death Statistics

I’m not sure about my answer to this week’s question, because I wasn’t able to find the statistic that I am referencing. I decided to write about it none the less because at the time it had a tremendous impact on me.

When I was in my last year of high school, age 18, I took a “world issues” class. We had a computer in our classroom we were allowed to use for research.  This computer was connected to a database that had all kinds of world health statistics- maybe aggregated by the World Health Organization (WHO)? Probably not though, since I checked the WHO website and couldn’t find statistics similar to this one I read back in high school.

I was probably messing around with the computer one day reading health statistics when I found a function that would tell you how many people born in a particular year were currently alive.  Naturally, I typed in “1983” (the year I was born) only to find out that 10% of people born the same year as me had already died.  If you narrowed the search to North America the number was 4%.

To add some context to this, it was September and a friend of mine died the previous June.  I was still pretty distraught.  When I read that statistic I felt a jolt and realized my mortality, really, for the first time… all of a sudden my friend’s death wasn’t just a terrible coincidence, it was something that could happen to anyone, and had in fact happened to one of every ten people who had been born the same year as me.  The way this information was presented, as a cold hard fact, was quite sobering.

Of course, this was twelve years ago and maybe I’m remembering wrong.  My inability to find similar statistics supports this theory.  In my attempt to find this statistic I found some interesting resources: The WHO Mortality Database, information from StatsCan, the Wikipedia article about Millennials  and an article about “30 Things Turning 30 This Year” (turns out it’s not just me).
I’m interested to know if anyone else has ever heard of statistics similar to the one I discuss.




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5 responses to “Death Statistics

  1. Hi Portia,

    Even though you couldn’t find the link to the statistical information you were referring to, I still find your post extremely applicable and interesting. Your post proves that stats can bring information that we ‘already know’ into light, making us take that information more seriously than we otherwise would have. Even though you know that death is possible for people our age, when you see statistics proving this, it becomes much more real.

    Victoria Grant

  2. Liz

    Hi Portia,

    Thank you for your interesting example. It makes me think that sometimes we live in the world focusing on dealing with our own problems often do not see the big picture of what is happening in the society or in the world. Statistics really helps us realize that we are not the only unfortunate or fortunate ones in the world. However, the problem with statistics is that it can be manipulated by people. For example, the government often under report inflation rate to control wage increase. This explains why most of the working individuals cannot afford to own a home.

    Thank you.


  3. Hi Portia,

    Your provocative title is intriguing. The program you describe would be a great resource for all levels of students of many programs, as well as curious non-students. I’m definitely curious about 1986! I’m similarly interested in life expectancy statistics. Whenever I look for information about a country in Wikipedia (usually for traveling purposes), I always scroll down to the “Health” section where the life expectancy rates are shown. These types of statistics can reflect a great deal about a country (e.g., healthcare, safety/crime, standard of living).

    Camille Johnson

  4. annastandish

    What a poignant story! And the program/database you describe is super intriguing – I took a peek around the internet to see if I could find out what it might be, but the best I found are these “life tables”, the likes of which I suspect could have provided the raw data for the interactive database you describe.

    The ones for the USA are more accessibly labelled:
    and for Canada:
    Does that look like the right kind of data to you?

  5. Anna: That is actually the closest thing I have seen to what I was describing. “Life tables.” Hmm, quite interesting what you can find when you have the proper vocabulary! Memory is a strange thing and it is very likely that I am not remembering details of this experience entirely accurately.
    Liz, I agree about how statistics bring to life the “larger picture.” I had the same reaction with Camille’s post when her acting instructor told them how many actors were living below the poverty line. It’s easy to believe you’re different or the exception until you’re faced with the hard facts.


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