Impact of Age, Sex & Cause Structure on Mortality Levels

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  • 0:01 The Mortality Shift
  • 1:01 Age & Mortality
  • 2:13 Sex & Mortality
  • 4:02 Cause Structure & Mortality
  • 5:26 Lesson Sumary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the mortality shift that has taken place since the 1850s and discover how this has specifically impacted various segments of the population. Then test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Mortality Shift

The world has changed a lot since 1850. People invented cars. That was nice. Cardboard was developed - very useful. We got rid of slavery, went to the moon, and figured out how to clone a sheep. Yep, lots of things changed since 1850. On top of these things, there's been one other change that's pretty nice. Life expectancies are continually increasing. As someone who's still alive, that's great news! Ever since 1850, mortality rates have steadily declined, a phenomenon referred to by researchers as the mortality shift. People are living longer on average, a smaller percentage of the population dies every year, it's great. But it has affected different segments of the population in different ways. Some people are simply luckier than others. I guess some things never change.

Age & Mortality

One of the biggest factors where we can see the impact of the mortality shift is age. It has been a pretty consistent fact throughout history that age is connected to mortality. But, different age groups are affected differently. For example, death rates amongst people from 5-14 have pretty much always been low. Kids at this age are not generally in life-risking situations and are pretty healthy. So the mortality shift did not affect this group very much. Infants, however, have had a much higher mortality rate. Since 1850, technological advancements have made huge changes in infant medical care, so this is the group where the mortality shift is most obvious. Even in the United States, infant mortality in the mid-19th century was as high as 5-10%. Since then, this has dropped to roughly 1%. Infant mortality is now relatively rare, and in fact, this is the age group that has seen the most dramatic change as a result of the mortality shift.

Sex & Mortality

Another major distinction in society is the change in mortality rates based on sex. Men and women do have different health risks, and these risks have changed with new medical technology. For example, in the 1850s, you'd have a large number of men who died from heart disease, while there would have been a large number of women who died from risks associated with childbirth. Since then, medicine has reduced the risks for both of these, but at different rates. Frankly, childbirth is still risky and still a major cause of mortality for women around the world. There are also cultural factors that go into the changing mortality rates for men versus women. When do we see mortality rates in men decrease? When manual labor becomes less normal and when warfare becomes less normal. Historically, injuries from labor and warfare were major sources of mortality for men.

On the other hand, we see a major decrease in female mortality when birth control becomes readily available, reducing the chances of unplanned pregnancies. This is more than just a change in technology. Societies that embrace birth control tend to have greater political and social rights for women, which translates to better healthcare and more opportunities for a healthy and fulfilling life. Additionally, these societies do not generally encourage large families. While women in many societies in the 1850s may have been expected to have as many children as physically possible, that is no longer the case. Smaller families reduce the physical risk of childbirth, and as a result, we see the mortality rate decline, especially for women within childbearing age.

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