STUMP » Articles » Mortality Monday: The Sex Gap in Death » 26 June 2017, 21:57

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Mortality Monday: The Sex Gap in Death  


26 June 2017, 21:57

Men, in the United States, and pretty much everywhere, have a higher mortality rate at all ages than do women at the same ages (obviously, 80-year-old women have higher mortality rates than 20-year-old men… that’s not what I mean. Smartass.)

But let’s dig into the data set I looked at last week and do sex-based slices.


Reminder: these are based on U.S. Death Records from 2014. So this reflects actually count of deaths.

Let’s do the simplest slice: how many of each sex died?

Male: 1,331,461

Female: 1,299,710

Even before I start doing breakdowns, 2.4% more male deaths than female deaths (mind you, in general, there are more males at birth without any shenanigans.)

By the way, this post, like many Mortality Monday posts, is about to get really dark, so YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.


I warned you.

Infant mortality is deaths under age 1. The mortality record I have here gives different numbers for under age 1 deaths — you can get the age at death in: months, days, hours, or minutes.

I told you this would get bad.

So I’m just going to cut to the chase. Here are the numbers.

While yes, there are about 6% more boys at birth than girls, the infant mortality rates for males are much higher than for females.

I decided to get even more morbid: are the causes of infant mortality for males appreciably different from those for females?

Well, duh. The top two causes of infant mortality in the records are extreme immaturity (1,791 males and
1,405 females) and sudden infant death syndrome (924 males and 621 females).

The first cause of death for females dying more than males is Edwards syndrome, unspecified (not to be confused with: ). For that, 171 males died and 241 females died. The reason that more female infants die from this is that females with Edwards syndrome are more likely to survive til birth. I assume the males are primarily stillbirths or miscarriages, not recorded in these stats.

I want to note, however, that these are small numbers. Most people die at much older ages.

Let’s check that out.


Here is a histogram of age at death, broken out by sex.

So a few things to notice: check out all those middle-aged men dying. Especially around age 60. Yowza.

See that weird discontinuity in both graphs? Rather than eyeball it, I will give you specific ages where you’re seeing that weird behavior in both curves: big drop between ages 67/68 and a lesser drop between ages 70 & 71/72.

So let’s say something odd looks like it’s happening between age 67 and 72 in the year 2014.

Let me do some simple math.

2014 – 67 = 1947
2014 – 72 = 1942

For the historically challenged: Pearl Harbor bombed in December 1941. V-J Day was in 1945.

It took a while for men to get drafted and go to war; similarly, it took a while for people to get back after the war (and catch up enough to get it ON, IYKWIMAITYD).

Basically. there were far fewer people in the U.S. actually born between 1942 and 1947. There were fewer people in 2014 in the U.S. available to die. (This also extends to immigrants, as many countries were affected from 1939-1945, and extending both before and after those years depending on the country.)

While the mortality rates in the U.S. haven’t shown much differences by war cohort and non-war cohort babies (they have in countries where there were actual fighting), you get very disparate absolute numbers just because of the effects on births back then. You can’t have a 70-year-old person die now if they weren’t born 70 years ago, after all.

In any case, I thought the snapshot in time to be interesting.


So we already know more men died in 2014. Let’s ignore infant mortality for now, given that most people die much older than that, and see what causes of death are much more likely for men than for women. To make things tenable, I filtered on causes of death where at least 1,000 people died.

Let’s look at the top ten causes of death overall:

I want you to note a few things — specifically the causes that are higher for men (positive percentage differences) vs. those higher for women (negative percentage differences).

Men more likely: atherosclerotic heart disease, heart attack, lung cancer

Women more likely: dementia, COPD, Alzheimer’s, certain kinds of stroke, congestive heart disease

Some of the items women are more likely to die from are partly related to the fact women were more likely to be in their 80s or older when they died. However, my understanding is that women do suffer from dementia more than men the same age. Not that there are so many men of that age to compare against.

This may not be all that interesting, because there’s a lot of overlap, but here is the ranking for the top ten causes of death for women:

But note the deaths via breast cancer, where only 1% of breast cancer deaths are men.

And top causes of death for men:

Want to note one item — the row with no female deaths. That’s prostate cancer, and yes, it’s in the top 10 killers for men. Over 28,000 men died from prostate cancer in 2014.


There are various cancers women can get that men can’t (I’m talking about sex, not gender here…and my death record file only has M/F as options.) Cancers women can get: uterine, ovarian, cervical, endometrial… ok, let me stop listing and give you the table:

By the way, I didn’t filter on cancer for this — I looked at percentage differences. It just so happened that cancers topped the list.

Now, here is an equivalent table for males:

Uh, wow. Not so much cancer on that list. Indeed, only one item on the list shows something men die of that women cannot — prostate cancer. Two other cancers listed there are heavily correlated with smoking, and smoking rates for men have always been higher than for women. Mesothelioma is a cancer related to having inhaled asbestos fumes, which men more often were exposed to due to renovation & other work during which asbestos fireproofing/insulation was installed, removed, or otherwise disturbed.

But the other items… yes. LOTS of suicide there, with that odd touch of drowning. That men are more likely to drown than women may be related to multiple factors. I may do a Mortality Monday piece on drowning alone. But I will admit I wasn’t expecting a big sex gap there. That it’s drowning on natural water, though, may provide a clue: far more men than women have jobs working on the open ocean. The ocean is not a safe place.

But suicide — I was expecting that. The suicide rate for men is much higher than for women. And, as you can see, they are more likely to kill themselves with firearms than are women. If I dipped below the top 10 in the list… yeah, you would see more suicide disparities, but by other means.

I will be getting into the suicide stats eventually…. but not today.