How Americans Die

The mortality rate fell by about 17 percent from 1968 through 2010, years for which we have detailed data.

Almost all of this improvement can be attributed to improved survival prospects for men

It looks like progress stopped in the mid-1990s…

…but that's only because the population has aged a lot since then.

This has a big effect on the overall mortality rate, because old people die sooner than the young.

If you divide the population into separate age cohorts, you can see that improvements in life expectancy have been broad-based and ongoing.

Looking at mortality for each age cohort since 1968, we see that Americans under 25 have made the most progress.

But one line in this chart looks unusual! Look at the mortality rate for people aged 25-44.

What caused the surge in mortality for25- to 44-year-olds?

AIDS, which at its peak, killed more than 40,000 Americans a year (more than 30,000 of whom were 25 to 44 years old).

(Slowing infection rates and better treatment eventually allowed many of those with the virus to survive into their 50s and 60s)

For a few years, AIDS was the single biggest killer of Americans who should otherwise have been in the prime of their lives.