Visualizing mortality dynamics for causes of death

Roland Rau, University of Rostock
Christina Bohk, University of Rostock
Magdalena Muszynska, Warsaw School of Economics
James W. Vaupel, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and Max Planck Odense Center

Life expectancy increased in countries like Sweden, France or Italy at a steady pace during the past half century. The development in some other countries (e.g., Denmark, the US or East Germany) can be characterized by periods of stagnation and subsequent years of catching up to other countries. The underlying dynamics for the comparable trends in life expectancy in the latter group can be quite diverse, though. We present Lexis maps of rates of mortality improvement, which depict the time-derivative of age-specific death rates, to illustrate those dynamics. We suggest that the resulting maps are easily understandable and interpretable. By analyzing selected causes of death in the United States, we argue that the identification of major developments, such as period- and cohort effects, is straightforward. Although circulatory diseases are the largest cause-of-death category, they were not the reason for the slow development of life expectancy among women in the US. Our visual analysis suggests that behavioral factors are mainly to blame: The main driver for the slow increase in life expectancy during the 1980s and 1990s was death from malignant neoplasms. The maps show a cohort pattern for all cancers combined, primarily shaped by lung cancer mortality. With increasing death rates at virtually all ages (=period effect), diabetes contributed also to this problematic trend in the US during the last two decades of the twentieth century but the pattern has reversed in recent years. Our goal in subsequent steps is to conduct a comparative analysis across several countries to gain a broader and deeper understanding of the underlying mortality dynamics. A preliminary figure for all-cause mortality shows, for instance, that Hungary’s mortality dynamics differed considerably from the ones observed in the US and Denmark - despite comparable trends for life expectancy in general.

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Presented in Session 56: Demographic concepts and indicators