When Will You Die?

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So, to be clear, I’ve done a thing here that you shouldn’t do, which is apply population statistics to individuals. But i did it for a good reason…uh…fun?

Of course there are many things that are likely to affect your age of death as much as or more than your current age (income, location, race, medical history, etc.) But also you gotta understand (and statisticians will hate this video for this reason and probably others) that the an average of life expectancy doesn’t tell you much at all about when an individual will die. For example, an change in child mortality changes life expectancy far more than a change in elderly mortality because the addition or removal of small numbers to an average will affect it dramatically.

This is why you’ll often hear that the life expectancy in some period of time was 35 years old. That makes it sound like people were all dying around 35, but in fact ages were distributed all over, but there were far more deaths of children and babies, which pulled the average way down. 80 year olds in the middle ages weren’t, like, some kind of mythical creature. “Life expectancy” just isn’t a super useful statistic for telling you what length of life to expect.

Also, it’s not even /that/ good at telling you things about public health. People are supposed to die, so a better measure (which Australia actually uses) is “Years of Potential Life Lost” or YPLL


The US has a surprisingly bad YPLL because of suicides, drug overdoses, homicide, and car accidents.

That allows you to study whether diseases kill lots of people who are at the end of their lives or people who might otherwise live a quite a long time. Like, dementia kills mostly very old people while suicide and accidents kill lots of young people. We shouldn’t give those deaths the same weight.

And then lastly, if you want to go all the way down this rabbit hole, you should google “Global Burden of Disease” which endeavors to measure beyond years of life lost and into the quality of those years. Like, disease can cause life-long chronic pain or disability, and those things should be considered as well as death.

OK, I am surprised by how much I just typed about this!

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