Some) death rates are rising

(Some) death rates are rising

In recent months, many newspaper articles and academic blogposts have discussed the fact that death rates for a number of demographic groups in the U.S. are rising — especially for whites — whereas in the rest of the developed world, death rates are falling. (See here ( for an example in the NY Times; a PDF without graphs is here(see the additional materials.) There has been much speculation as to the cause of this, with drug use, including both prescription and illegal drugs, commonly named as the culprit. While the Indiana media has devoted much coverage to the increase in opioid addition in the state, as far as I know, nobody has studied death rate as a whole. We will examine people in Indiana aged 20 to 29; limiting our study to one age group means the confounding effect of the aging population is largely removed. All the data below come from the CDC, which maintains comprehensive data on deaths and their causes at (link of website)


Write one 400-600 word IDS article, plus at least two graphs, about the death rates for people in their twenties in Indiana, and how these have changed in recent years. In particular, address the following three questions:

1. How has the death rate for people in their twenties in Indiana changed since 1999?

Draw a line graph of the death rate for people in their twenties in Indiana since 1999. The death rate should be stated as deaths per 100,000 people.

In your article, describe what you see. Remember that the most important feature of a graph is the overall pattern or trend. Other features of the graph may be worth describing as well, but the trend should be the focus.

2. Which death rates and changes in death rates are notable if we break the data down by demographic groups?

This question has several parts to it:

Which demographic groups in the data set have especially high death rates?
Which demographic groups have seen increases in death rates since the early 2000s?
Which demographic groups have seen the biggest increases in death rates since the early 2000s?
You should address all of these sub-questions. It is up to you whether you draw a graph for this question. Regardless of whether or not you do, you should incorporate key numbers into your article to aid your argument.

3. Is the increase in death rates mostly due to drug use? Is drug use the only explanation?

Draw an appropriate graph. In your article, describe what you see and answer the question as best you can. (It’s fine if you don’t come up with a definitive answer — it’s always hard to get definitive answers from observational data.)

Bonus question: Within each racial/ethnic group, is the trend the same for both females and males?

You’ll need to go to the CDC website and find additional data to answer this question.


Table 1: Annual deaths and drug-induced deaths of Indiana residents aged 20-29, from 1999 to 2014.

Indiana residents
(aged 20-29)

Deaths (all causes)

Drug-induced deaths
1999 837980 776 48
2000 834766 813 50
2001 833686 851 52
2002 835888 807 50
2003 843443 841 84
2004 848801 820 107
2005 855328 928 136
2006 863957 930 172
2007 866879 904 193
2008 869585 886 166
2009 871650 843 178
2010 871556 894 199
2011 879939 827 183
2012 890201 974 210
2013 898822 987 226
2014 907498 981 221
Note: Death rates should be expressed as deaths per 100,000 people per year. For the numbers in this table, calculate these by dividing total deaths by average population, then multiplying by 100,000.

Table 2: Comparison of deaths 2000-04 and 2010-14 for various subgroups of Indiana residents aged 20-29.

Years Group Deaths (total over 5 years) Population (av. over 5 years)
2000-04 Females 1066 414236
2000-04 Males 3066 425081
2000-04 Black/African American 839 84087
2000-04 White 3262 734524
2000-04 Hispanic/Latino 235 56090
2010-14 Females 1286 441328
2010-14 Males 3377 448275
2010-14 Black/African American 777 101318
2010-14 White 3830 756667
2010-14 Hispanic/Latino 235 68428

Not all demographic groups are included (e.g. I excluded Asian/Pacific Islanders because of comparatively small numbers.)
Some people are in more than one group, e.g. you can be Hispanic and white.
Death rates should be expressed as deaths per 100,000 people per year. For the numbers in this table, calculate these by dividing total deaths by average population, multiplying by 100,000, then dividing the result by 5 (because deaths are counted over five years.)
What we expect of you

The goal of this assignment is to get you to use publicly-available data to address questions of genuine importance to the public. You need to communicate the results of your analysis to a general audience in a clear, accurate, and convincing way. This will require including numbers and graphs, but it will also require shaping these materials into a compelling argument.

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