Do you know how you'll die? The CDC does

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

News article image

Dying: Everyone does it, but no one wants to talk about it. When you end up meeting your maker varies quite a bit depending on when you do it and who you are.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention , Americans need to worry most about contracting heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases, as those are the top three killers of Americans respectively. The fourth cause of death among Americans is stroke (cerebrovascular diseases), followed by accidents – mainly motor vehicle accidents and drug overdoses.

NPR notes that the average age of death decreased in 2016, the first time it has become younger in decades. “This is a big deal,” Philip Morgan, a demographer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told NPR. “There’s not a better indicator of well-being than life expectancy,” he says. “The fact that it’s leveling off in the U.S. is a striking finding.”

In many states, the top three causes of death are the same as they are across the country, but there are some notable exceptions. Here’s what you should look out for depending on who you are and where you live.

Variation by state

Accidents are also the third most common cause of death in Alaska, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In many states accidental deaths are on the rise due to an increase in heroin and opioid painkiller addiction.

As of 2014, cancer was the top cause of death in:

This is up dramatically from 2000, when “Alaska and Minnesota were the only two states where cancer was the leading cause of death,” according to the CDC.

(Data source: CDC )

Variation by race

Between 1999 to 2013, the gap in life expectancy between white and black Americans decreased from 5.9 years to 3.6 years. 

(Source: CDC/NCHS )

According to the CDC, this decrease is “mostly due to greater decreases in mortality from heart disease, cancer, HIV disease, unintentional injuries, and perinatal conditions among the black population.” As healthcare improves for this demographic, their average lifespan is closing the gap.

The highest life expectancy by race in the United States belongs to the Hispanic population, towering above both white and black non-Hispanics. The CDC explains the reason for this:

The difference between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic white populations was a function of the Hispanic population experiencing lower mortality from cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, suicides, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. The difference between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations was due to the Hispanic population having lower mortality from heart disease, cancer, stroke, perinatal conditions, diabetes, homicide, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, kidney disease, HIV disease, and septicemia.

For both genders and in average overall, the hispanic population has the longest life expectancy in the United States.

Life expectancy at birth, by Hispanic origin, race, and sex: United States, 2013

(Source: DC/NCHS )

Variation by age and sex

The way someone is most likely to die varies greatly by their age, and even more so by their sex. Professor Nathan Yauhe, a statistician at UCLA, has used the site Flowing Data to create charts depicting the CDC’s data on the way that age and sex influences cause of death.

Causes of death for females by age

(Source: CDC/Flowing Data )

Death by external causes (including poison, injuries, falls, self harm and assault) peaks at age 20, causing 70% of deaths. At age 20, 10% of women’s deaths are due to cancer, while at age 60 this goes up to 40%. After the age of 18, the percentage of women who die from circulatory diseases increases steadily from approximately 5% and reaching 50% by age 100.

Causes of death for males by age

(Source: CDC/Flowing Data )

Men die twice as often as a result of external causes than females are, peaking at 85% of all male deaths at the age of 20.

While you can’t predict the way you will die, you can learn from these statistics to stay safe from your demographic’s biggest threats. Whether you are most likely to die from accidents or cancer, one thing is certain: you can’t choose how you’ll die, but you can choose how you’ll live. Plan accordingly!

Image: Duka82