Causes of death statistics by age group
Data extracted in March 2022.
Planned article update: April 2023.
This is an article using the most recent statistics on causes of death in the European Union (EU). It is important to identify and record the underlying reasons for deaths and make the information available to policy-makers, health services and the public. With this data, it is possible to describe and understand the rate and trends in mortality. The data also serve to give information on changing epidemiological circumstances. Most causes of death vary significantly by age and by sex. This article gives an overview of the standardised death rates at EU level, by country of residence of the deceased and by age. The use of standardised death rates facilitates comparisons both over time and between countries, independent of population age structures.
Most frequent causes of death in the EU in 2017 by age
The causes of death and the death rates differ between age groups. The latest statistics related to causes of death at European Union (EU) level are available for the year 2017. Data on individual Member States are mostly available until 2019. In 2017, 83.6 % of all deaths of residents in the EU occurred among people aged 65 years and over (hereafter referred to as ‘the elderly’).
Almost 40 % of all deaths in the elderly population in 2017 were caused by diseases of the circulatory system (Table 1). One in three of these were caused by ischaemic heart disease. The second most frequent cause of death in the elderly was cancer (almost 23 %).
Among EU residents below 65 years of age, the leading causes of mortality were somewhat different in terms of their relative importance compared to the elderly population. Cancer was the most frequent cause of death, causing 37.0% of deaths in this group. Diseases of the circulatory system were the second most frequent cause of death in persons below 65 years old causing 21.2 % of deaths.
Respiratory disease caused 8.6 % of deaths among elderly but was not a major cause of death in people below 65 years old. In the latter group, the third main cause of death was external causes (12.1 %), of which over half (54.1 %) were accidents.
Most frequent causes of death in the EU in 2017 by sex and age
Circulatory disease was a more frequent cause of death in elderly women than in elderly men in the EU in 2017 (43 % and 36 % of all deaths, respectively) (Figure 1). The opposite was true for cancer (19 % and 27 % of all deaths, respectively) and for respiratory disease (8 % and 10 % of all deaths, respectively). Accidents accounted for 3 % of deaths regardless of sex.
In EU residents aged less than 65 years who died in 2017, cancer was the principal cause of death for almost half (48 %) of all women and one third (32 %) of all men (Figure 1). Accidents accounted for 8 % of deaths of men and 4 % of deaths of women. Deaths from diseases of the respiratory system accounted for 4 % of all deaths among people aged less than 65 years, regardless of sex.
Standardised death rates— higher death rates among elderly
The EU standardised death rates in 2017 were systematically higher in the elderly than in younger persons, and hence for the total population, for all the major causes of death of the elderly. Figure 2 shows five major conditions causing death in elderly and the corresponding rate in people less than 65 years old. Lung cancer is the condition with the highest standardised death rate for both groups in 2017, with 190 deaths per 100 000 elderly inhabitants and 18 per 100 000 inhabitants below 65 years old.
Standardised death rates by country
The standardised death rate from circulatory disease was higher in men than in women in the elderly population in all reporting countries (Figure 3). The highest standardised death rate from circulatory disease in elderly men and women were reported in Bulgaria. The second highest rate for elderly men was reported in Latvia and was only slightly higher than the standardised death rate from circulatory disease in Bulgarian elderly women (Figure 3). No country reported a standardised death rate from circulatory disease in elderly men below 1000 deaths per 100 000 male inhabitants in 2019.
The lowest standardised death rate from circulatory disease in women in 2019 was reported from Denmark with 821.7 deaths per 100 000 female inhabitants (Figure 3). Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reported a death rate from circulatory disease in elderly women below 1000 per 100 000 female inhabitants.
Of the EFTA countries, the highest standardised death rates from circulatory disease were reported from Lichtenstein for both elderly men and women, and the lowest rates from Norway (Figure 3).
In the population below 65 years old, the highest standardised death rates from accidents among the EU Member States were found in men in the three Baltic states; Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (Figure 4). The same countries reported the highest standardised death rate from accidents for women below 65 years old with the highest rate in Latvia, followed by Estonia and Lithuania.
Notably, in Greece, the death rate from accidents was 6.5 times higher for men than for women in the population below 65 years old, 24.3 in men and 3.8 in women per 100 000 male/female inhabitants (Figure 4). The smallest difference between men and women was reported in Luxembourg where the standardised death rate of men (12.1 deaths per 100 000 male inhabitants) was 2.18 times that of women (5.5 deaths per 100 000 female inhabitants). The EU country with the lowest standardised death rate from accidents in men was Malta with 8.1 deaths per 100 000 male inhabitants.
Developments over time
Men above 65 years old
Between 2007 and 2017, the EU standardised death rate of cerebrovascular disease for elderly men decreased by almost 30% and that of ischaemic heart disease decreased by 25 % (Figure 5). The death rate from cancer of the prostate, lung and colon decreased by 12 %, 11 % and 10 % respectively. The rate of diseases of the respiratory system as cause of death decreased by 6 %, with some variation from year to year. In fact, the rates of all these major causes of deaths declined in men aged 65 years and over during this time period.
Women above 65 years old
In contrast, the standardised death rate of lung cancer increased every year in elderly women and was 24 % higher in 2017 than in 2009; the first year this variable was available (Figure 6). The standardised death rate of respiratory disease increased by 4 % from 2007-2017 but varied from year to year. The standardised rate of deaths from breast cancer remained stable at around 100 deaths per 100 000 female inhabitants aged 65 years or more. The three other causes of death illustrated in Figure 6 showed a more positive development; the standardised rates of death from ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease decreased by 31 % each. The standardised rate of colorectal cancer as cause of death decreased by 14 % in elderly women.
Persons aged below 65 years
The EU standardised death rate for persons aged less than 65 years fell by 10.8 % between 2007 and 2017 (Table 2). Decreases were noted for the rates of each of the main causes of death. The standardised death rate of circulatory disease fell by 23.0 %, of accidents by 10.7 % and of cancer the rate decreased by 8.7 %.
Source data for tables and graphs
Statistics on the underlying causes of death provide information on mortality patterns. This source is documented in more detail in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions.
Legal basis for the data collection
Since reference year 2011, reporting countries submit data to Eurostat based on the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 1338/2008 on Community statistics on public health and health and safety at work , and Regulation (EU) No 328/2011 on Community statistics on public health and health and safety at work, as regards statistics on causes of death. Countries submitted data to Eurostat based on a gentleman's agreement established in the framework of Eurostat's Working Group on "Public Health Statistics" until data with reference year 2010. There are currently 33 countries submitting the CoD data to Eurostat:
- EU27 Member States
- EFTA countries (IS, LI, NO and CH)
- Candidate countries and potential candidates (RS and TR)
Data are collected at NUTS0 and NUTS2 level.
Classification of the causes of death
Statistics on the causes of death are based on the medical information provided in the death certificate. Causes of death are classified by the 86 causes in the European shortlist which is based on the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.
Tables in this article use the following notation:
|Value in italics||data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;|
|:||not available, confidential or unreliable value.|
Standardised death rate
The number of deaths from a particular cause of death can be expressed relative to the size of the population. A standardised death rate is adjusted to a standard age distribution. This facilitates comparisons of rates over time and between countries. The European standard population used for the standardisation of crude rates is based on the European Standard Population (ESP) in use since the summer of 2013.
Statistics on causes of death are among the oldest medical statistics available. They provide information on developments over time and differences in causes of death between countries. These statistics play a key role in the general information system relating to the state of health in the EU. They may be used to determine which preventive and medical-curative measures or which investments in research might increase the life expectancy of the population.
Statistics concerning causes of death among persons aged 65 years and over (the elderly) are of increasing interest. A dramatic change in the nature and delivery of healthcare over the past century has resulted in much longer life spans and a greater prevalence of chronic illnesses. This in turn has led to increased demand on healthcare systems, particularly for long-term care. Public health programmes throughout the EU are often targeted at reducing mortality among people aged less than 65 years through preventive measures, for example, the promotion of healthier lifestyles through improved nutrition, lower tobacco and alcohol consumption, an increase in physical activity or a reduction of professional risk.
The percentage of the population aged 65 years and over in the EU is projected (according to Eurostat 2019 baseline year projections) to increase, on average, from 20.3 % of the total population in 2019 to 30.3 % of the total by 2058.
Direct access to
Causes of death
Health status — selected diseases and related health problems
Specific health conditions
- Cardiovascular diseases statistics
- Cancer statistics
- Cancer statistics — specific cancers
- Respiratory diseases statistics
- Mental health and related issues statistics
- Accidents and injuries statistics
General health statistics articles
- Health (t_hlth)
- Causes of death (t_hlth_cdeath)
- Health (hlth)
- Causes of death (hlth_cdeath)
- Causes of death statistics (ESMS metadata file — hlth_cdeath_sims)
- Revision of the European Standard Population — Report of Eurostat’s task force — 2013 edition
- The reference years 2018 and 2019 for residents are indicated as preliminary in Eurostat's dissemination database since one country's data, France, are missing. The (generally) small number of residents of other reporting countries who died in France are not yet included.
- More than 110 deaths per 100 000 inhabitants over 65 years old.