Tag Archives: ralph-keeney

Mundane Decisions and Premature Deaths

Deaths in the United States res­ult­ing from “fairly mundane per­son­al decisions” have ris­en from a rate of around 10% of all pre­ma­ture deaths a cen­tury ago to 44.5% today*. This shift sug­gests that by improv­ing our decision-mak­ing abil­it­ies, we can dra­mat­ic­ally reduce a main cause of pre­ma­ture death: ourselves.

44.5% of all pre­ma­ture deaths in the US res­ult from per­son­al decisions – decisions that involving among oth­ers smoking, not exer­cising, crimin­al­ity, drug and alco­hol use, and unsafe sexu­al beha­vi­or. […]

Using the same meth­od to exam­ine causes of death in 1900, [the research­er, Ral­ph Keeney] finds that dur­ing this time only around 10% of pre­ma­ture deaths were caused by per­son­al decisions. Com­pared to our cur­rent 44.5% of pre­ma­ture deaths caused by per­son­al decisions, it seems that on this meas­ure of mak­ing decisions that kill ourselves we have “improved” (of course this means that we actu­ally got much worse) dra­mat­ic­ally over the years. And no, this is not because we’ve become a nation of binge-drink­ing, mur­der­ous smokers, it’s largely because the causes of death, like tuber­cu­los­is and pneu­mo­nia (the most com­mon causes of death in the early 20th cen­tury) are far more rare these days, and the tempta­tion and our abil­ity to make erro­neous decisions (think about driv­ing while tex­ting) has increased dra­mat­ic­ally.

What this ana­lys­is means is that instead of rely­ing on extern­al factors to keep us alive and healthy for longer, we can (and must) learn to rely on our decision-mak­ing skills in order to reduce the num­ber of dumb and costly mis­takes that we make.

via @kylecameron

*Look­ing exclus­ively at 15- to 64-year-olds, this becomes 5% in 1900 and 55% in 2000, accord­ing to Thomas Goetz.