The Demographics of Mortality

The Demographics of Mortality Photo Credit: Clipart.com


To use the Internet to explore population distribution and survivorship curves.


By the time students enter high school, they should be able to locate information in reference books, computer databases, and other sources. In this activity, students utilize these research skills to explore some of the factors that can affect the size and rate of growth of human populations.


Students should begin by looking at the U.S. and World Population Clock on the U.S. Census webpage and discussing their meaning. They should then look at the Predictions of the Size and Composition of U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060 and at the Historical National Population Estimates: July 1, 1900 to July 1, 1998.

Ask the class to make some generalizations about population in the United States for this time period. There was only one year in which there was a negative change during that time period. Ask students to point out the year and any historical significance that might attach to it.  


Have students begin their investigation at Genealogylinks.net. They should find their state and explore the links to find obituaries from newspapers. For example, under Maryland they can find obituaries from the Baltimore Sun, a variety of death records, and so on. Have students explore the various states and make a list of the types of resources in which they could find records of births and deaths on the Internet. 

Then, have students use the Access Excellence activity, Human Populations Studies or "The Ghost of Populations Past" to explore age-related death rates of the human population. They should read the background information and collect the materials needed for the activity. Students will need index cards and data tables. You can print out the data tables from the webpage or you can have students make their own. 

Introduce the activity by saying, "In this activity, we will study changes in population size. As we have discovered, the two main things that affect population size are birth rate and death rates. If these two rates remain equal, the population size will generally remain the same. In this activity, we will collect information about the deaths of humans and organize them into a life table. We will analyze this information to decide the ages at which the human population is most vulnerable to death." 

In their science or lab journals, have each student answer the following questions:

  • What age groups would you predict to be most vulnerable to death?
  • What factors might contribute to the increased rate of death during those predicted age groups?

Then, students should follow the directions on Human Populations Studies or "The Ghost of Populations Past."

For this activity, students can gather data from a variety of sources, including newspapers, microfiche files in the library, and even from cemeteries. Below are some Web resources that students can use to gather data for this project. 

  • Atlas of United States Mortality, which can be downloaded as a PDF file from the National Center for Health Statistics. Or you can purchase this as a CD-ROM from the Center.
  • Population Reference Bureau is a good source for timely, objective information on U.S. and international population trends
  • Statistical Abstract of the United States from the U.S. Census Bureau. The entire book is online. It can be downloaded as a PDF file, but it is a very large file. Each yearly index is about 1,500 pages!
  • GPO Federal Digital System has life expectancy and age, sex-adjusted, geographic, socioeconomic, and race-indexed mortality figures.


For assessment, you can use the questions provided in the activity. Also, have students revisit and revise the answers they provided to the questions above. (What age groups would you predict to be most vulnerable to death? What factors might contribute to the increased rate of death during those predicted age groups? Were their predictions correct? How did they revise their answers?)


The Basic Tables: 1990 Demographic Profile Generator can be used by students to enter zip code, county code, state code, or other code to get a table presenting comprehensive census data from 1990. Have students download data for their home or for other U.S. cities or counties. Then they can use the data to make graphs or charts that can be used to compare demographic information from different areas of the country.

Have students view and compare population density maps from the University of Arkansas' Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies.

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Lesson Details

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