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Changes in the Age Distribution of Mortality Over the 20th Century

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  • David Cutler
  • Ellen Meara

Abstract

Mortality has declined continuously in the United States over the course of the 20th century, and at relatively constant rates. But the constancy of mortality reductions masks significant heterogeneity by age, cause, and source. Using historical data on death by age and cause, this paper describes the characteristics of mortality decline over the 20th century. Early in the 20th century, mortality declines resulted from public health and economic measures that improved peoples' ability to withstand disease. Because nutrition and public health were more important for the young than the old, mortality reductions were concentrated at younger ages. By mid-century, medical care became more significant and other factors less so. Penicillin and sulfa drugs brought the first mortality reductions at older ages, which were coupled with continuing improvements in health at younger ages. The pattern of mortality reduction was relatively equal by age. In the latter part of the 20th century, death became increasingly medicalized. Cardiovascular disease mortality was prevented in significant part through medical intervention. Most of the additional years added to life in the last few decades of the 20th century were at older ages.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8556.

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Date of creation: Oct 2001
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8556

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  1. Robert W. Fogel, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," NBER Working Papers 4638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Angus Deaton, 2001. "Relative deprivation, inequality, and mortality," Working Papers 275, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  3. David M. Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Karen Norberg, 2000. "Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide," NBER Working Papers 7713, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Jennifer M. Mellor & Jeffrey D. Milyo, 2001. "Income inequality and health," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(1), pages 151-155.
  5. David M. Cutler & Ellen Meara, 2000. "The Technology of Birth: Is It Worth It?," NBER Chapters, in: Frontiers in Health Policy Research, Volume 3, pages 33-68 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Samuel H. Preston, 1996. "American Longevity: Past, Present, and Future," Center for Policy Research Policy Briefs 7, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
  7. Cutler David M. & Meara Ellen, 2000. "The Technology of Birth: Is It Worth It?," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 3(1), pages 1-37, January.
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Cited by:
  1. Aakvik, Arild & Holmås, Tor Helge, 2005. "Access to Primary Health Care and Health Outcomes: The Relationships between GP Characteristics and Mortality Rates," Working Papers in Economics 16/05, University of Bergen, Department of Economics.
  2. Rodrigo Reis Soares, 2006. "On the determinants of mortality reductions in the developing world," Textos para discussão 529, Department of Economics PUC-Rio (Brazil).
  3. Maarten Lindeboom & France Portrait & Gerard J. van den Berg, 2003. "Individual Mortality and Macro-Economic Conditions from Birth to Death," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 03-072/3, Tinbergen Institute, revised 14 Oct 2003.
  4. Marcel Erlinghagen, 2007. "Die Beteiligung an ehrenamtlicher Arbeit und informeller Hilfe nach dem Renteneintritt: Analysen mit dem Sozio-oekonomischen Panel," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 27, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  5. Cutler, David & Lleras-Muney, Adriana & Deaton, Angus, 2006. "The Determinants of Mortality," Scholarly Articles 2640588, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Rodrigo R. Soares, 2009. "Life expectancy and welfare in Latin America and the Caribbean," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(S1), pages S37-S54, April.
  7. Willem Heeringa & A.L. Bovenberg, 2009. "Stabilizing pay-as-you-go pension schemes in the face of rising longevity and falling fertility: an application to the Netherlands," DNB Working Papers 220, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
  8. Law, Marc T. & Kim, Sukkoo, 2005. "Specialization and Regulation: The Rise of Professionals and the Emergence of Occupational Licensing Regulation," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(03), pages 723-756, September.
  9. Sally C. Stearns & Edward C. Norton, 2004. "Time to include time to death? The future of health care expenditure predictions," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 13(4), pages 315-327.
  10. Andreea Balan-Cohen, 2008. "Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise? The Impact of the Old Age Assistance Program on Elderly Mortality in the United States," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0719, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  11. Gilad Sorek, 2006. "Advancing Medical Technology, Aging Population, and Economic Growth," DEGIT Conference Papers c011_046, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.

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