Mundane Decisions and Premature Deaths

Deaths in the United States resulting from “fairly mundane personal decisions” have risen from a rate of around 10% of all premature deaths a century ago to 44.5% today*. This shift suggests that by improving our decision-making abilities, we can dramatically reduce a main cause of premature death: ourselves.

44.5% of all premature deaths in the US result from personal decisions – decisions that involving among others smoking, not exercising, criminality, drug and alcohol use, and unsafe sexual behavior. […]

Using the same method to examine causes of death in 1900, [the researcher, Ralph Keeney] finds that during this time only around 10% of premature deaths were caused by personal decisions. Compared to our current 44.5% of premature deaths caused by personal decisions, it seems that on this measure of making decisions that kill ourselves we have “improved” (of course this means that we actually got much worse) dramatically over the years. And no, this is not because we’ve become a nation of binge-drinking, murderous smokers, it’s largely because the causes of death, like tuberculosis and pneumonia (the most common causes of death in the early 20th century) are far more rare these days, and the temptation and our ability to make erroneous decisions (think about driving while texting) has increased dramatically.

What this analysis means is that instead of relying on external factors to keep us alive and healthy for longer, we can (and must) learn to rely on our decision-making skills in order to reduce the number of dumb and costly mistakes that we make.

via @kylecameron

*Looking exclusively at 15- to 64-year-olds, this becomes 5% in 1900 and 55% in 2000, according to Thomas Goetz.



One response to “Mundane Decisions and Premature Deaths”

  1. Dc

    Interesting. Though I can’t help but think that there are so many more causes of death that we know about now as compared to 1900. I.e. Smoking will kill you, binge drinking will kill you, unsafe sex will kill you, etc… These are things we didn’t quite understand then so were never included as a decision we could make. Perhaps the same decisions would have been made back then if they were actually considered decissions.