The age at death of 25 men and 25 women were collected from the Notable Deaths section of the online New York Times Obituaries (New York Times Staff, 2014). The data collected are shown in Table 1 and charted in Figure 1, both below. In this data set women had a greater survival rate than men, with fewer women dying before age 70 and more women living beyond age 90. Traditionally, the longer lifespan of women than men in the U.S. has been attributed to reduced deaths from such causes as cigarette smoking and heart disease, and generally more healthful lifestyles.
In the pre-1900 era, both mortality and fertility began a decline that continued into the 20th century. Moorad (2013), for example, cited pre-1900 issues in survivability that included increased infant mortality, increased female mortality from childbirth, and overall lower survivability due to lack of quality medical care for disease, infection, and accidents. In particular, infant mortality in the early 1800s was higher, and waves of disease including diphtheria and flu caused higher mortality overall during epidemics (Moorad, 2013).
Fifty years from now the survivorship curve could be different in one of two ways. With climate change, increases in “superbugs,” and emerging diseases, infections and diseases such as antibiotic resistant tuberculosis and malaria may result in increased mortality. On the other hand, if new treatments become available along with continued improvements in public hygiene and nutrition, it seems possible that increased survivorship into the low 100s may occur in future. In addition, the difference in survivorship by gender may be reduced.
Having an aging population means continued strain on resources because of fewer workers and greater need for medical services for the aged. Population increases could go beyond sustainable levels. Evidence exists in Europe that changes in urbanization occur with urban and suburban areas experiencing cycles of growth and loss, sometimes simultaneously in different areas (Kabisch & Haase, 2011). More globally, the United Nations forecasts urbanization to increase to encompass about two-thirds of the global population by 2050 (Kohlhase, 2013). Thus, changes in survivability will impact urbanization, resource allocation and utilization for all resources as the population ages and will thus impact sustainability.
Table 1. Number of Survivors by Age Class for 25 Men and 25 Women
- Kohlhase, J. E. (2013). The new urban world 2060: perspectives, prospects, and problems. Regional Science Policy and Practice, 5(2), 153-166.
- Moorad, J. A. (2012). A demographic transition altered the strength of selection for fitness and age-specific survival and fertility in a 19th century American population. Evolution, 67(6), 1622-1634.
- New York Times Staff. (2014). Notable deaths of 2014. New York Times: Obituaries. Online. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/obituaries/notable-deaths-2014.html