Explaining ASRs. I’m sorry for beginning this post with a graph headlined “Age-standardised death rates”. It sounds like something they might construct in 1984’s Ministry of Love, although it’s actually nothing as sinister. Age-standardised death rates (ASRs) simply help us overcome a problem with comparing mortality figures over time. If we just said that 514,250 deaths were registered in England and Wales in 2004 and 501,424 in 2014, it wouldn’t account for the changing size and makeup of the population between those years. By expressing it as a number out of one million, and making allowances for demographics, ASRs do.
The gains of the past decade… We have ASRs stretching back over decades, but is it any surprise to hear that things are better now than they were in the 1950s? That’s why I’ve focused on the past ten years in the above graph. In 2004, 14,007 out of every million men were registered as dead. In 2014, it was 11,213, or a decline of 19.9 per cent. The equivalent figures for women were 9,927 in 2004 and 8,219 in 2014, or a decline of 17.2 per cent. Now, this is something that I do find pretty astonishing. Even in just the last decade, death rates have declined by about a fifth.
…and their causes. What explains this welcome decline? Advances in medicine and changes to our lifestyles, natch – among other things. Much of the story is told by the ASRs for particular causes of death, provided in Table 9 of this spreadsheet. The number of women perishing from breast cancer has reduced by 18.8 per cent over the period. The number of men from coronary heart disease by 43.6 per cent. The number of men and women from road accidents by 45.5 and 46.4 per cent, respectively. And so on.
The rise of male suicide. This doesn’t mean that the death statistics are a happy place. They are death statistics, after all – and some of them are worsening. The age-standardised suicide rate among men has increased by 4.1 per cent since 2004, or by 17.2 per cent since it reached a low in 2007.
Tragedy in the margins. In a way, this is an acute, if rather morbid, version of a point that I’ve tried to make before: that politicians should strive to look not just at the headline numbers, but the numbers beneath them and the numbers beneath them, all the way ‘til they’re looking at people’s actual lives. There are a lot of positive trends about at the moment, from death rates to economic growth, but always a thousand individual tragedies contained within them.