What happened in the 1950s? (change in mortality rates)

So I was looking on Flowingdata.com, which is a fascinating data visualization website/blog, and they had a link to a mortality explorer site that shows the death rate by age and year. For example, if you look at English/Welsh males, it shows a pretty distinctive increase in death rates during the years 1914-1918 in military-aged men (roughly 17-45).

What I also noticed is that in most industrialized nations, something happened starting in the late 1940s- early 1950s that decreased the death rate among children started decreasing, and the visualization shows it centered more or less around 10 years old.

And there’s another decrease starting in roughly the late 1990s and continuing until the present day centered on slightly younger children.

What caused this? Immunization? Safer toys? Nutrition?

Mortality explorer site:



I’d say immunization and antibiotics


They defeated polio. That was a biggie.

A few thoughts.

The National health service in Britain started in 1948.

Most modern anitbiotics came out between 1940 and 1962.

The MMR vaccine didn’t come out until the 60’s so its probably not that.

Penicillin alone started being mass-produced during World War II and became available to the public afterward.

I’d guess antibiotics. In James Herriott’s “All Creatures” books, he notes that the veterinary industry took a sharp upward turn when the sulfa drugs came out in the 30s and then an even sharper one when the first antibiotics became available. I imagine it’s not much different in human medicine.

I’ve always heard it was mostly Penicillin. It changed everything.

A miracle drug, no doubt. Now we’ve over used it and it’s gonna bite us in the ass.

If I recall my history, studies of WWII soldiers showed a lot of rejections attributable to poor nutrition in childhood. This resulted in the School Lunch Act of 1946.

Just this alone could have had a dramatic decrease in childhood deaths.

“Every hospital had a ‘septic’ ward, filled with patients with chronic discharging abscesses, sinuses, septic joints, and sometimes meningitis … chambers of horrors, seems the best way to describe those old septic wards.”

Dr Charles Fletcher, who gave the first penicillin injection at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1941, on life before penicillin


Sure, but based on the site, it seems to have been ALL countries at roughly the same time. Some countries were first- the Netherlands for example started their lowering of death rates for ~10 year olds starting in the 1930s. But all saw a pretty drastic decrease after the war.

Antibiotics and immunization seem like the most likely candidates though.

No idea, but what happened around 1921 for men age 16-40 to decrease their mortality in Sweden? I thought that blue strip was from WW1. Is that big white jump in the early 1920s also from the end of WW1 or something else?

I’d ‘guess’ OPs question is as other people say. Antibiotics, vaccinations and better nutrition.

I would also attribute a lot of the 1990s decrease to infant/small child car seats and stricter seat belt and drunk driving laws.

The peak year for auto accident fatalities in the U.S. was about 56,000 in the early 1970s; it’s about half that now, with nearly twice the population.

I read recently that when the measles vaccine came out, that alone decreased child mortality by about 50%, and it’s been discovered even more recently that what REALLY made it so deadly was that the measles virus caused a sort of amnesia of the immune system that could last as long as a year or two. THAT alone is reason to vaccinate!

And smallpox.

Don’t forget better housing and nutrition in the recovery from WW2, as well as welfare state policies in general. One perhaps counter-intuitive consequence of British rationing and food policy was that it improved general health by guaranteeing a nutritional minimum, especially for children, both in domestic rations and through school meals programmes and supplements (I certainly got daily free milk and fish-oil capsules at school, and plenty of vitamin-rich rosehip syrup).

Maybe this will explain why so many people remembered the 1950’s with such fondness.

The Spanish Flu kept going a couple of years after the war.

This is broad, but likely correct. Kid’s immune systems really are superhero-level effective…but only if they get the proper nutrition to handle infection. So combine better food security with immunizatons and antibiotics and it’s not surprising to see a dip in child deaths.

Hell, just better health overall is another driver. Healthcare delivery may be an issue in places, but healthcare itself has made enormous leaps forward since WWII.

Electrification, and refrigerated food storage,.