Mortality rate

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The international levels of infant mortality, depicted as the number of deaths in a thousand births.
Crude death rate by country

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths (in general, or due to a specific cause) in some population, scaled to the size of that population, per unit time. Mortality rate is typically expressed in units of deaths per 1000 individuals per year; thus, a mortality rate of 9.5 in a population of 100,000 would mean 950 deaths per year in that entire population. It is distinct from morbidity rate, which refers to the number of individuals who have contracted a disease during a given time period (the incidence rate) or the number who currently have that disease (the prevalence rate), scaled to the size of the population.

One distinguishes:

  1. The crude death rate, the total number of deaths per 1000 people.
  2. The perinatal mortality rate, the sum of neonatal deaths and fetal deaths (stillbirths) per 1,000 births.
  3. The maternal mortality rate, the number of maternal deaths due to childbearing per 100,000 live births.
  4. The infant mortality rate, the number of deaths of children less than 1 year old per thousand live births.
  5. The child mortality rate, the number of deaths of children less than 5 year old per thousand live births.
  6. The standardised mortality rate (SMR) or age-specific mortality rate (ASMR) - This refers to the total number of deaths per 1000 people of a given age (e.g. 16-65 or 65+).

In regard to the success or failure of medical treatment or procedures, one would also distinguish:

  1. The early mortality rate, the total number of deaths in the early stages of an ongoing treatment, or in the period immediately following an acute treatment.
  2. The late mortality rate, the total number of deaths in the late stages of an ongoing treatment, or a significant length of time after an acute treatment.

Note that the crude death rate as defined above and applied to a whole population of people can give a misleading impression. For example, the number of deaths per 1000 people can be higher for developed nations than in less-developed countries, despite standards of health being better in developed countries. This is because developed countries have relatively more older people, who are more likely to die in a given year, so that the overall mortality rate can be higher even if the mortality rate at any given age is lower. A more complete picture of mortality is given by a life table which summarises mortality separately at each age. A life table is necessary to give a good estimate of life expectancy.


The ten countries with the highest infant mortality rate are:

  1. Angola 192.50
  2. Afghanistan 165.96
  3. Sierra Leone 145.24
  4. Mozambique 137.08
  5. Liberia 130.51
  6. Niger 122.66
  7. Somalia 118.52
  8. Mali 117.99
  9. Tajikistan 112.10
  10. Guinea-Bissau 108.72

According to the World Health Organisation, the 10 leading causes of death in 2002 were:

  1. 12.6% Ischaemic heart disease
  2. 9.7% Cerebrovascular disease
  3. 6.8% Lower respiratory infections
  4. 4.9% HIV/AIDS
  5. 4.8% Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  6. 3.2% Diarrhoeal diseases
  7. 2.7% Tuberculosis
  8. 2.2% Malaria
  9. 2.2% Trachea/bronchus/lung cancers
  10. 2.1% Road traffic accidents

Causes of death vary greatly between developed and developing countries. See List of causes of death by rate for worldwide statistics.

Factors affecting a country's death rate

  • Age of country's population
  • Nutrition levels
  • Standards of diet and housing
  • Access to clean drinking water
  • Hygiene levels
  • Levels of infectious diseases
  • Levels of violent crime
  • Conflicts
  • Number of doctors

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See also


ca:Taxa de mortalitat cs:Úmrtnost da:Mortalitet de:Mortalität eu:Heriotza-tasa lt:Mirtingumas nl:Sterftecijfer sk:Úmrtnosť fi:Lapsikuolleisuus

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