Following up on our recent Slate article, Jonathan Auerbach made some graphs of mortality rate trends by sex, ethnicity, and age group, aggregating over the entire country.
Earlier we’d graphed the trends within each state but there was so much going on there, it was hard to see the big picture.
All our graphs are age adjusted.
Also, each graph is on a different scale. Graphs are scaled just to include the data. So look at the y-axes carefully if you want to compare different plots. As always, there’s a tradeoff between the unambiguousness of a common scale or the higher resolution of different scales. In these graphs we went for resolution. Soon we’ll post all our data and R code and then you can easily play with the code and make your own graph. Or you can go to CDC Wonder, download the data, and make your own graphs right now.
All trends are from 1999-2014.
Minorities used to have higher death rates than whites among almost all age groups. But now, death rates for whites and minorities are close to equal in most age categories.
During the past decade and a half, death rates for in the different minority groups have steadily declined in most age categories, while death rates for whites have declined more slowly and actually increased in a few age categories (25-55-year-old women and 25-34-year-old men).
As demonstrated in our other document, these patterns vary a lot by state and region of the country.
The graphs below compare non-Hispanic whites to others for the U.S. as a whole.
Non-Hispanic whites vs. all minorities
Non-Hispanic whites vs. blacks vs. Hispanics vs. others
Economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton wrote two papers on mortality rate trends. These two papers did the service of getting these trends discussed in the news media and in the scholarly community more broadly. Unfortunately most of the discussion of this in the news media, back in 2015 and again now, began and ended with Case and Deaton, not giving other perspectives.
I think the best recent news article on the topic is this piece by Malcolm Harris, who went to the trouble to read the literature and interview some demographers who work in this area. Harris goes into detail on the problems with Case and Deaton’s comparisons of trends in different education categories. It’s not that such comparisons shouldn’t be done, but you have to be careful about the interpretation, because of selection bias.
The rest of the news media (NYT, NPR, etc) pretty much punted on this one and just did straight Case-Deaton with no alternative perspectives. Kinda frustrating, but this is the tradition in science reporting, I guess. As I wrote earlier, I’m not saying these journalists had to talk with me; the appropriate people to interview are various actuaries, demographers, and public health researchers who understand these numbers inside and out.
Obligatory criticism of the graphical display
I’d prefer a different color scheme—it’s kinda weird that the color for white people changes from the first to the second set of graphs. Also, I’d take advantage of the scrolling feature of html and display the graphs in a 10 x 4 grid: that’s 10 age categories x 4 batches of graphs (women whites vs. minorities, men whites vs. minorities, women whites vs. blacks vs. hispanics vs. others, men whites vs. blacks vs. hispanics vs. others).
Or maybe, how’s this for an idea: 10 x 5, each graph has one line for men and one for women, and the 5 columns are whites, blacks, hispanics, others, and all minorities. That could work! At least, it’s worth a try. I don’t like the current graphs with 4 different colored lines; it’s too hard for me to keep these clear in my head. I keep finding myself going back and forth between the plots and the color code, and that’s not good.