Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and ne’er continueth in one stay
—The Book of Common Prayer (1662)
Diuturnity is a dream and folly of expectation.
—Sir Thomas Browne, Urne Buriall
While of death, there is little to be said that is truly to the point, of dying there is too much.
—Raymond Tallis, The Black Mirror
This morning on NPR’s Saturday Edition Scott Simon announced—portentously, as he so often does—that: “Senior citizens, people over 65, account for 16% of the U.S. population but 75% of deaths from COVID-19, according to the CDC.”
It’s not clear what to make of this factoid. In 2019, according to the CDC, before anyone had heard of COVID, people 65 years of age or older were 16% of the U.S. population and 74% of deaths. And in 2010, old people (among whom I number myself) were 13% of the U.S. population and 73% of deaths.
But, as Scott might say, mercy! it’s even worse than this. In 2020, people 75 years of age or older were just 7% of the population but 54% of deaths. And—oh lordy—people 85 years of age or older were 2% of the population but 30% of deaths!!
This may mean that there is an epidemic of death among the elderly. Or that a leading cause of death is old age. Or that death follows, inevitably, from being born.
For a sobering comparison, compare the statistics for the Republic of South Africa, where people aged 65 or older, in 2017, were 5% of the population but 36% of deaths. People between the ages of 35 and 44 comprised 13% and 14% of the population in the U.S. and the R.S.A., respectively, but accounted for less than 3% of deaths in the U.S. and more than 12% of deaths in the R.S.A.
So perhaps the statistics which seemed to give Scott the vapors mean simply that, in the United States, “senior citizens”—however old they may be—are lucky to be not dead yet.