More than half a million deaths were registered in England and Wales in 2015, but our data shows cause of death can depend heavily on our sex and age.

Deaths registered in 2015

The number of deaths referred to in this article is the number of deaths registered in 2015.

A small number of deaths will have been subject to a post-mortem or inquest; such deaths cannot be registered until all investigations have concluded. Some of these deaths are consequently registered in a different year to which the death occurred.

When looking at the causes of death in 2015, for the most part more men died at each single year of age until 831, from which greater numbers of women died.

Studies have shown males are more fragile as foetuses and babies under 1 year. This continues throughout childhood with larger numbers of males dying than females. The greater number of women dying from age 83 is linked to women living longer than men.

Death registrations by age, England and Wales, 2015

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The interactive graphic shows the number or percentage of deaths by broad underlying cause and sex, for single years of age, and the group aged 100 and over.

What are the most common causes of death by age? Find out with our interactive graphic.

Distribution of death registrations by underlying cause, sex and age, England and Wales, 2015

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Defining cause of death

The underlying cause of death is defined as the disease or injury which initiated the chain of morbid events leading directly to death, or the accident/act which produced the fatal injury.

The World Health Organisation International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) is used to code cause of death for deaths over 28 days. More information is available in our User guide to mortality statistics.

Broad underlying causes are referred to in this article. For example, Cancer, which include specific causes such as breast cancer. The list of ICD-10 broad causes with examples are available in the table.

Statistics are also published by leading causes of death which refer to more specific cause of death groups. Figures for 2015 are due to be published in autumn 2016.

Only 5% of people who died in 2015 were under the age of 50.

For this group the number of deaths by single year of age can be quite small. This makes it difficult to see individual causes of death on the interactive chart showing numbers of deaths.

The chart can be switched from number of deaths to percentage which helps us to see the main causes of death in these younger age groups; it represents the percentage of deaths from each broad cause at a particular single year of age, based on the total number of deaths at that age.

How does our sex affect what we die from?

Ages 5 to 49 External causes, for example, accidents and suicides2, were the most common broad cause of death for people aged 5 to 49 in 2015; 38% of male and 20% of female deaths registered across these ages were due to external causes in 2015. Over three times as many deaths from external causes were registered to males than females in 2015.

Studies have shown that the frontal lobe, the main part of the brain associated with planning, working memory, and impulse control, is not fully developed until well into our twenties3. For this reason, young people are more likely to act impulsively and take life-threatening risks.

External causes accounted for 45% of male and 30% of female deaths at ages 5 to 19 in 2015. In 2014, vehicle4 accidents were the first and second leading specific causes of death for females and males respectively, aged 5 to 19, in England and Wales, accounting for 11% of deaths at this age5. Worldwide, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29.

External causes were the most common broad cause of death for both males and females aged 20 to 34 and males aged 35 to 49. For females aged 35 to 49 it was the second most common broad cause behind cancer, which accounted for 42% of deaths.

Suicide, including injury or poisoning of undetermined intent, has been one of the top 3 leading specific causes of death for people aged 5 to 49 in recent years, accounting for around 12% of deaths registered at these ages in 20145. Around 80% of these deaths are male; recent studies have linked the excess of male suicides to pressures of economic hardship6, new challenges of mid-life and personality traits such as emotional illiteracy7.

Over 3 times more deaths from external causes were registered to males than females at ages 5 to 49 in 2015

Deaths due to external causes, England and Wales, 2015

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Ages 50 and over Cancer (28%) was the most common broad cause of death for men and women aged 50 and over in 2015, followed by heart disease and strokes (27%) and respiratory diseases (15%).

More men than women died at ages 50 to 79 (31,191 more men); a consequence of men having a shorter life expectancy than women. As a result, at these ages almost every cause of death has a greater number of men dying compared to women.

At ages 80 and over, the pattern reversed with 52,930 more women dying than men; this is because there are relatively fewer men than women living at these ages given the differences in life expectancy.

Cancer and heart disease and strokes were the top broad causes of death for men and women aged 50 to 79 in 2015, accounting for 42% and 25% of deaths registered respectively.

Cancer killed more women than men at ages 35 to 49, but more men than women at ages 50 to 79 in 2015. In recent years, breast cancer has been the leading cause of death for women aged 35 to 49 while at ages 50 to 79 lung cancer was the most common cancer for men and women4.

Heart disease and strokes killed 183 men for every 100 women aged 50 to 79 in 2015. Studies suggest biological and behavioural reasons for the higher number of male deaths from heart disease, such as a higher percentage of men who smoke and drink. In addition, men are less likely than women to visit the doctor, leading to later diagnosis and treatment. Studies have also linked oestrogen in pre-menopausal women to the lower incidence of heart disease in women.

At ages 80 and over, heart disease and strokes and cancer were the top broad causes of death for men and women in 2015, accounting for 28% and 19% of deaths registered respectively. At these ages, deaths from mental and behavioural disorders increase notably.

In 2015, 88% of deaths from mental and behavioural disorders occurred at ages 80 and over; with two-thirds of these being to women. This represents the greater number of women surviving to age 80 and above. The majority of these deaths are due to dementia and Alzheimer disease.

Twice as many women died of mental and behavioural disorders (including dementia and Alzheimer disease) aged 80 and over, compared with men, in 2015

Deaths due to mental and behavioural disorders, England and Wales, 2015

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The likelihood of developing dementia and Alzheimer disease increases with age. As life expectancy is greater for females than males, women are more likely to survive to older ages, where they are at increased risk of developing such diseases. Scientists have shown, however, that even when correcting for age, women are at greater risk from dementia and Alzheimer disease. It is not yet clear why.

The cause of death interactive was inspired by Nathan Yau’s earlier interactive causes of death.

For more information on deaths please visit our web pages or e-mail us at:


  1. The exceptions were ages 8, 13 and 14 when more females died than males. Between the ages of 4 and 14 the total numbers of deaths each year are relatively small (all less than 100) and the differences between the number of male and female deaths at ages 8, 13 and 14 are less than 5.
  2. More information on the ICD-10 codes used to represent suicides can be found in Suicides in England and Wales (see section 12).
  3. Johnson et al (2009) Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy. Journal of Adolescent Health, Sep; 45(3): 216–221.
  4. Classified as 'land transport'
  5. ONS (2015) What do we die from?
  6. BMJ (2012) Suicides associated with the 2008-10 economic recession in England: time trend analysis
  7. Samaritans (2012) Men and Suicide. Why it’s a social issue.