STUMP » Articles » Death Comes for Us All, Part 2: Expect the Wave (that will take decades) » 12 February 2016, 11:37

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Death Comes for Us All, Part 2: Expect the Wave (that will take decades)  


12 February 2016, 11:37

On Groundhog’s Day, I called my one surviving grandparent on her birthday. I ended up telling her why she’s going to be seeing many more obituaries for people 20 years younger than her than for people her own age (like ya do).

And now I’m going to explain it to you.


The last post on this, I explained why you should be seeing more celeb deaths as the Boomers age:

The reason you’re going to see a lot of these deaths, increasingly, over the next two decades are:

- the pig in a python of the Baby Boom
- the oldest Boomers are entering their 70s this year…and mortality really kicks up as one gets to be over 70.

I showed a picture of mortality rates, but that’s a conditional probability of the chance of dying in the year after age x, given that you survived to age x. But most people have trouble thinking about conditional probability.

What we can understand better is absolute probabilities (what’s the probability of dying at age 75, given you were born?). Even easier: the total number of deaths in a year.

So voila:

You can see that the people born in 1940, the pre-Boomers, are seeing their peak death year this year.

2016 also happens to be the year when those 10 years younger will have about the same number of deaths. That 1950 cohort had far more births than those in 1940.

My grandma is closest to the 1930 cohort — and you can see the 1950 cohort surpassed her group in number of deaths about five years ago.

I know that one would think more people in their 80s are dying than those in their 60s, but that’s just from a rate point of view. Given that 2.6 million native-born Americans were born in 1930, and 3.6 million were born in 1950 — an almost 40% increase — it’s hardly surprising that those 60-somethings are seemingly dropping like flies compared to the older generation.


The spreadsheet where I did the calculations and graph is at this link.

For those who would like to replicate my graph above, this is what I did.

I got the year-by-year number of births here:

I got the mortality tables here:

I used tables number 1501 and 1502, which are the Social Security cohort tables, birth years 1900 – 2007.

To blend the male/female mortality rates, I assumed a 1.05 male-to-female ratio at birth. (Interestingly, for those born in 1920, that means about equal numbers at age 62; for those born in 1960, the equalization is at about age 47).

Now, these assumptions ignore the effects of immigration/emigration. First, emigration is minimal, compared to the entire population. While immigration is not minimal, if one assume immigration in proportion to the native cohort, it still works out. The real immigration boom (whether legal or illegal) started after 1965, with the change in immigration laws, so it really doesn’t have a huge effect on the older cohorts as it is. If anything, they stay where they are, and the Boomer cohort ranks swell.

My point was to try to capture which age cohorts we’re going to be seeing the most deaths from by year, not really to get the total number of deaths correct. Mainly, I wanted to check that what I told my grandma was true.

(btw, right before we were talking about the death rates, yes we mentioned Bowie’s death, and then went on to talking about how Michael Jackson’s was the least surprising celeb death, and talking about Elvis… and then she brought up what she noticed re: obituaries. I DIDN’T START IT)

I’m home ill today. You can see the type of thing I get up to when coughing up a lung.

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