Historical Leading Causes of Death

Posted on by NCHS

We’re all fairly familiar with the leading causes of death today: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, influenza/Pneumonia, kidney disease, and septicemia. (As an aside, you can querythe leading causes of death in detail from 1981 to present at CDC’s WONDER database.) But what were the leading causes of death in the last century?

In 1950 we find the top 10 causes of death were, in order, heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, infant death, influenza/pneumonia, tuberculosis, arteriosclerosis, kidney disease, and diabetes. Skipping farther back to 1920 the leading causes are influenza/pneumonia, heart disease, tuberculosis, stroke, kidney disease, cancer, accidents, diarrhea/enteritis, premature birth, and childbirth related conditions.

The earliest data, that from 1900, give influenza/pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhea/enteritis, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, accidents, cancer, senility, and diphtheria as the leading causes of death.

The leading causes of death from 1900 through 1998 is located here.

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6 comments on “Historical Leading Causes of Death”

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    What causes the (sudden) decline of pneumonia, influenza and tuberculosis in the 20’s and early 30’s, as the leading causes of death?

    Hi Bill,

    NCHS simply tracks the number of deaths by cause of death. You may want to check with CDC or another disease-related organization. In general, chronic disease has overtaken infectious diseases like the ones you mentioned as leading causes of death. Improvements in immunizations might be a factor worth checking into.

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Page last reviewed: July 6, 2007
Page last updated: July 6, 2007