Death in the 20th Century. The Infographic


We know that eventually we are all going to die. What we often don’t know is how. Neither did our grandfathers or our great-grandfathers. The causes of death vary according to an incredible amount of circumstances, ranging from environmental factors to shifting demographic patterns. As a consequence, medicine adapts and lifestyle patterns change.

David McCandless, London-based writer and designer, was appointed by the Wellcome Trust –a UK charity dedicated to human health– to illustrate the worldwide leading causes of mortality from 1900 to 2000.

It’s hard to grasp the amount of data that has been broken down, taking into account both time and geographic location. Non-communicable diseases (excluding cancer) and infectious diseases take up the biggest portion of deaths, with 1,970 million and 1,680 million respectively. As expected, cancer manages to have a bubble on its own by having been responsible for over 530 million deaths in the 20th century. Shockingly –or maybe not– tobacco killed nearly as many people as the First and Second World Wars combined.

We are only thirteen years into a whole new century. What will the patterns be like this time? Will we learn from our ancestors and change the course and cause of death? If so, we should well know that causes are replaceable; death always finds its way. I guess it’s just a matter of form.


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Based in Amsterdam, Roberta graduated from Erasmus University in Health Economics, Policy and Law in 2011. During her academic path, she focused on researching the socio-economic inequalities in health care utilization in the rural areas of India. Over the past year, she has worked at Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, analyzing new disruptive patterns within the global health system -ranging from health systems to start-up business models. Over the past six years she has been working for a Dutch publishing firm as Marketing Manager and Executive Editor. Roberta is passionate about health innovations, disruptive change in developing countries, social media and photography. She is a lover of good food, travels, old movie theaters… and Apple.