If we were to survey all the people who have died in human history, how many people would there be? And what percentage would be babies, children, adults etc? What would be the average age?
Another way to ask the question might be: what are the demographics of heaven? But I decided against asking it like that because although it’s a great snappy question, it doesn’t seem in the spirit of a board like this. And I don’t believe in heaven.
I realise the starting point of humanity might be up for some debate so I’ll let you argue that one out.
I ask because I am writing a line for a character who is challenging a religious person with a “fact” about half of all humans who have ever lived dying in infancy. However I can find no evidence to back it up. I’m now curious about what the actual number might be. But the wider question about how the total demographics stack up is very interesting and there’s not much online that I can find.
Well, first you’d have to set a benchmark for the start of human history. Your character could mean recorded history, i.e. as far back as we have reliably-dated text and artifacts, and even decide to indulge the religious character and assume a mere 10,000 years or so. We have evidence that the human species goes back a lot further, of course, 100-250 thousand years, though that’s likely to complicate the question more than clarify it.
There are roughly 110 billion humans who have ever lived.
of them, maybe half died before the age of 5.
Most people who lived, lived roughly from the age of agriculture until now. There weren’t many hunter gatherers in our total history. Roughly 89 billion of the 110 billion humans lived in the era between the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution.
Ever since the industrial revolution, an additional 21 billion humans have been born. But because that is recent, it doesn’t add up as much.
Right now, about 7% of the total population of humanity is alive. That number will grow in the future. Meaning, as time passes more and more of humanity will have been alive during times of radical technological advancement.
There were far more people in agricultural times than in pre-historical hunter gatherer times. There are far more people in post-industrial times than in agricultural times.
Using that metric, there will be far more people in post-machine intelligence times than in current times.
However, would the total human population before c. 10,000 years ago be so small as to not have much meaningful impact on this number? The total number of humans might vary only 1-2%, depending on the starting point.
Depending on whether you include fetuses, the numbers will vary strongly. About a 18% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and, previous to the 19th century, about 30% of children died before the age of 5.
It’s reasonable to say that about half would be fetuses, babies, and children.
So more than half - maybe 70+% would be under the age of 15.
A woman is at a greater risk of death during childbirth before she is, herself, fully developed and yet it was likely fairly normal for women to get married and start having children as tweens and teens. It’s likely that you would have a significant number of teen women in the afterlife, who died during childbirth.
Then you would likely have a large body of men in the late teens and early twenties, dying from war, misadventure, animal attack, etc.
After that, you’re mostly in the clear and will have died somewhere in your 60s to 70s.
I’ll also note that the way nature regulates population, historically, is through famine. Once a population exceeds what the land can support, they all die and the population shrinks down to what the land can support again. We would expect to see peaks and valleys of death as we go through history - looking at a particular group of people - due to that phenomena. So you’d have a bunch of people (mostly the old and young) all die at once in a single year or two, then a longer stretch of fewer deaths and longer lives, with fewer deaths of the young and elderly, as the population builds back up and has more nutrition available, then there will be another wave of deaths.
In France during the renaissance, the median age at death was 10 (half the people born died before 10). I don’t know how representative is that for the rest of the history of mankind (from your link, it seems that neolithic hunter gatherers might have had better chances at surviving childhood), but I would suspect that you don’t need to include fetuses
Where? When? Because contrarily to what people tend to believe, historically, in western europe at least, women didn’t marry that early. An usual first marriage in 15th century France would have been a 20 yo woman marrying a 25 yo man, for instance.
Wrong. A lot of people state that if you survived childhood in past eras, you would live almost as long as we do now, but it’s false. For people who had survived until 20, life expectancy reached 40 years in France only during the late 19th century. In other words, until then, even if you reached adult age, you were still more likely to die before 60 than after. During the late middle ages (still in France), if you had survived until adulthood, you could expect to die in average in your early 50s. If I remember correctly, between 1000 AD and 1500 AD, only two English kings and no French king lived to be 60. None lived to be 70. French kings died on average in their late 40s, English kings on average in their early 50s. And that was those who lived long enough to become kings in the first place.
So, in the late middle age, half the people born would die before 10, and half of the rest before reaching their early 50s.
Our impressions are distorted because many famous people of the past lived long. But in most cases, they became famous precisely because they had an unusually long life. You don’t get to be remembered as a famous general or great thinker if you die at 28 from an infectious disease before you had the opportunity to lead any army or write any book. You’re not remembered as a great king if you reigned for only two years before kicking the bucket.
For the record, some months ago, I asked my coworkers if, lacking modern medecine, they would have survived until now. It turned out that out of 6 people, I would have been the only one not only surviving until now, but even simply reaching adult age. Not terribly representative but it still shows how much our current life expectancy is dependant on modern medecine, even in a world where we don’t have massive epidemics, bad crops resulting in mass starvation, etc…