STUMP » Articles » Top Causes of Death by Age Group, 2020: Raw Numbers » 12 January 2022, 07:53

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Top Causes of Death by Age Group, 2020: Raw Numbers  


12 January 2022, 07:53

I looked at this very thing using a table from the CDC for the year 2017, a post I wrote in December 2019.

You can go to that post to see what that CDC table looked like.

I did a top causes of death post in April 2021, but that was for the whole country, and, obviously, was going to be biased by what killed the oldest people.

Here’s a table with top causes of death by age group for 2020. These are counts of number of deaths, no rates of anything in this post.

The numbers below each cause are the total number of finalized deaths in CDC Wonder as of 11 January 2022 for the completed calendar year 2020.

COVID deaths for under age 15 weren’t in the top 10 causes for those age groups, which is why they aren’t seen in the table. But you may be interested in those numbers:
at #12 for ages 5-14, with 49 deaths
at #12 for ages 1-4, with 19 deaths
at #13 for infant mortality (<1 year), at 35 deaths

In general, other than the new cause of COVID, most of the causes of death were in the same rank order as in 2019, with a few switches for causes that tend to be close in numbers.

Total numbers of deaths by age group, 2019 vs 2020

Here is a graph showing how total deaths from all causes shake out, with a graph of the 2019 numbers so you can easily eyeball the difference.

This graph also gives you an idea of the number of total deaths you’re looking at for each age group, when we’re thinking about those top causes of death.

For example, the top cause of death for people age 15-24 (accidents, at about 15K) kills fewer people than the 10th top cause of death of those age 85+ (hypertension, at near 17K). Heck, more accidents kill those age 85+, but the nature of those accidents differ greatly (far more likely to be falls than drug overdoses).

In upcoming posts, I will be looking at some of the key causes of death, especially ones like homicide and accidents that saw huge changes between 2019 and 2020, and had ongoing effects into 2021 and possibly 2022.

Total numbers of non-COVID deaths by age group, 2019 vs 2020

I removed the COVID deaths for 2020, so you can see that there still were some excess non-COVID deaths.

Potentially, some of these excess deaths were undiagnosed COVID deaths, but I have looked at some of the numbers, and sorry lazy-ass publications like The Economist, just that there were “excess deaths” doesn’t mean you can say “Oh, they were undercounting COVID deaths!”

I have pointed out in a recent post that some of the excess mortality looks like a continuing mortality trend that may have accelerated due to pandemic impacts (lockdowns, recession, and other economic problems) — that is, drug overdoses — but this was a bad problem that started years before COVID came on the scene.

Heart disease deaths by age group, 2019 v 2020

I am splitting out the deaths by the two largest categories, because I am going to want to do deeper dives for causes such as accidents, homicides, suicides, diabetes, liver disease, and more.

So let us get heart disease and cancer, the big two, out of the way.

Here’s heart disease:

There was an increase in heart disease deaths, and as in a prior post, the type of heart disease that saw a big step up was heart attacks (aka “ischemic heart disease”). Which are usually caused by blood clots… and COVID can cause blood clots.

Pattern to note: increasing number of heart disease deaths with increasing age.

Cancer deaths by age group, 2019 v 2020

Finally, cancer deaths:

I will note that while cancer deaths overall were flat for 2020, they went down for younger people, and up for older people, albeit a fairly small percentage (about 3%).

One thing that we have been concerned about re: cancer are people missing screening (often occurring at younger ages), and cancer not getting caught until later stages. That may end up in cancer incidence rates, survival rates, and other things long-term. Given the improvement of cancer survival rates, it may turn out to be a wash, but it is much better to catch a cancer when it is relatively treatable as opposed to when it gets into your bones, as it has with Stuart, my husband.

(As an aside, join with me in praying the St. Peregrine Novena, for cancer patients — I’m currently on day 2, here on January 12.)

The pattern of causes of death

There are, essentially, phases of life.

When you’re young, accidents (which includes drug overdoses) are the top cause of death, and there’s a turbulent period of suicide and homicide being fairly high in adolescence and young adulthood.

In middle age, cancer is the top cause.

When you’re old, heart disease is the top cause.

I would say, use the official cross-overs to tell you: middle age begins at 45; old age begins at 75. The death statistics have spoken.

Don’t shoot the messenger.


Data were dram from the CDC Wonder Database as of January 2022, using finalized numbers for 2020 and 2019, underlying cause of death.

Cause of death categories for top leading causes were defined using the 113 cause of death list, using only the “rankable” causes (of which there are 51). I did not use the infant mortality cause list for those under age 1, because (sorry, not sorry), I am not interested in investigating the infant mortality trends for 2020 at this time.

Ten-year age groups were used for the groupings, as seen, for the entire U.S.

If you are on the substack post, the spreadsheet with the table and graphs, and all the underlying numbers, are found below in the Excel spreadsheet. You can contact me if you have any questions about the numbers:

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