Every 8 Years, This Is What Happens To Your Risk Of Death

Health researchers continually investigate how genetics, certain behaviors, and your environment can decrease or increase your risk of death. Age also has something to do with your risk of death. While you'd think that your risk of death increases incrementally each year, one law says it increases much faster as each year goes by.

It's called the Gompertz-Makeham law, which is a mathematical equation to calculate your risk of death. While the original Gompertz equation was just concerned with how quickly your risk of death increases with age, the Gompertz-Makeham law also factors in deaths from external causes that don't have to do with age, like natural disasters or gun violence. When you think about it, it makes a little bit of sense. You're more likely to see more people dying in their later years than in their younger years. While this exponential increase in your risk of mortality might frighten you, this rate declines once you reach 80 (per Bionity).

To put things into context, a physicist took the mortality rates from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2005 and plugged the numbers into Gompertz's original equation (per Gravity and Levity). He found that the probability of death doubles every eight years. Because he was 25, his risk of death was 1 in 3,000, but it doubled to 1 in 1,500 by age 33. In essence, your body ages at a certain rate.

Does everybody age at the same rate?

However, this equation was conceived before the 1950s. These days, there isn't such a sharp curve in your risk of mortality every year because life expectancies have increased. In Sweden, 50-year-olds born in 1970 had an 11-fold lower death rate than those born in 1800, according to Our World in Data.

When you're born, those first few months of your life can be risky. You're just as likely to die in this young stage of life as you would when you're 60. After that first year, your risk significantly drops 50-fold by the age of 10. Yet when you reach your teens, that's when death rates make another sharp incline. That's when you start to see a rise in deaths due to external causes like overdoses, poisonings, suicides, and accidents. Deaths from external causes occur at relatively the same rate until your mid-70s. However, deaths due to disease also sharply increase in your teenage years but increase at an exponential rate until the age of 80.

While death rates among infants might sound shocking, it's better now than it's been in the past. Using data from England and Wales, infant death rates in 2021 were 100 times lower than in 1921.

Risk of death isn't just about aging

Your life expectancy is significantly lower in some states and higher in others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mississippi and the states surrounding have the lowest life expectancy, and the Northeast and West Coast have higher life expectancies.

In France, your risk of death doubles about every eight or nine years after adolescence, according to the Institut National d'Études Démographiques. Yet men in their 20s have three times higher risk of death than women that age. A 1984 critical analysis in Gerontology noted that the Gompertz-Makeham law could differ between men and women.

Even if your death risk doubles every few years, there are a few things that you can do to increase your life expectancy that don't have to do with aging. For example, riding a motorcycle can increase your risk of death more than if you normally drive a car. Men are more likely to engage in drunk driving, which can lead to an increase in death risk. Other risky behaviors such as driving without a seatbelt put you at a greater risk of dying in a car crash. In fact, taking public transit not only is better for the environment, but it's also safer than driving your car to work (per The New York Times). You were told during the COVID-19 pandemic to wash your hands, but do you still do it? Washing your hands for 20 seconds can prevent and spread infections.