An analysis of death using the National Longitudinal Mortality Study.

Author:Gius, Mark


Death is a certainty of life. The cause of one's demise, however, is subject to uncertainty due to a mix of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that determine the actual reason for a person's death. For example, a person may smoke cigarettes for his entire life and then be struck down in his prime by the crosstown bus. An athletic, health-conscious non-smoker may contract and die from lung cancer; witness the recent passing of Dana Reeves, the wife of Christopher Reeves. Hence, although death will come to all of us, the means of our passing is heavily subject to random events. Given the above, it may be interesting to statistically examine the primary causes of death. Using an expansive survey of death that includes socioeconomic and demographic information on the deceased in addition to his or her cause of death, the present study attempts to examine the causes of death.

There has been a plethora of research on the determinants of mortality. Unfortunately, most of it focused on less-developed countries or comparisons between mortality rates for developed and lessdeveloped countries (1),(2),(3). An excellent survey on the topic of mortality recently appeared in the Journal of Economic Perspectives(4). Another comprehensive examination of mortality was conducted by Rogers, Hummer and Nam (5).

In looking at mortality within countries, both studies noted that several factors stand out as the primary determinants of death; they are education level, income and race. Well-educated individuals are less likely to engage in risky, health damaging behaviors such as smoking and drinking heavily. Well-educated individuals are also more likely to have jobs that are rather safe and that do not expose them to injurious risks. African-Americans, who have less access to quality health care, are more likely to die at younger ages. Finally, lower-income individuals have less access to quality health care and hence are also more likely to succumb to diseases.


In order to examine the determinants of mortality, six causes of death are examined: infection; cancer; Diabetes; social causes, which includes cirrhosis of the liver, traffic accidents and suicides; cardiovascular diseases; and respiratory diseases. This is the same categorical breakdown of diseases used by Rogers, Hummer and Nam (5). Using prior research as a guide, the following equation is estimated for each cause of death:

Display equation (1)

where Y takes...

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