The global mortality rate has been falling for quite some time. It's gone down from about 17.7 deaths per 1000 people in 1960, to 7.7 in 2016.

Less discussed is absolute mortality, which I've realized may be at an all-time high right now. For one, the world population has never been higher, and also the relatively large senior population means a lot of people are dying from natural causes. The CIA reports about 1.8 deaths per second, or 57 million per year.

So, will 2018 be the deadliest year in human history? It seems plausible. Some other contenders I could think of...

  • 1942: Height of World War II
  • 1918: World War I and the influenza pandemic
  • 1500s: Smallpox outbreak in the Americas
  • 1348: Height of the Black Death
  • 1
    This graph strongly suggests it is today. – Semaphore Nov 22 '18 at 4:10
  • Are you inquiring about absolute or relative mortality ? – Lucian Nov 26 '18 at 17:45

You're probably correct, it seems to be this year.

To start with, our inquiry can most likely be safely restricted to the last few decades. As this graph from Wikipedia establishes, in absolute terms, total deaths from recent years outstrips even the Second World War. The First World War, even with the influenza, was considerably less deadly than the Second.

Though the graph only began in 1900, the much smaller global population until the industrial revolutions means it gets progressively more unlikely the further back in time you go. Medieval plague deaths or other disasters, no matter how proportionally devastating, is limited in the total damage they can do.

For instance, the Black Death might have wiped out half of Medieval England, but the English population was no more than 7 million or so at the time.


According to the United Nations Statistics Division, the crude death rate of the world is estimated to have declined from 19.09 in 1950 to ~7.7 now. Meanwhile, the population has grown from 2.536 billion to 7.795 billion. Mapping these figures out gives the following:

                    Death Rate  Population      Total Deaths
                    (per 1000)  (in 1000s)
World   2020-2025   7.789       7795482.309     60719011.7
World   2015-2020   7.695       7383008.82      56812252.87
World   2010-2015   7.712       6958169.159     53661400.55
World   2005-2010   7.985       6542159.383     52239142.67
World   2000-2005   8.374       6145006.989     51458288.53
World   1995-2000   8.734       5751474.416     50233377.55
World   1990-1995   9.095       5330943.46      48484930.77
World   1985-1990   9.499       4873781.796     46296053.28
World   1980-1985   10.059      4458411.534     44847161.62
World   1975-1980   10.751      4079087.198     43854266.47
World   1970-1975   11.959      3700577.65      44255208.12
World   1965-1970   13.491      3339592.688     45054444.95
World   1960-1965   16.143      3033212.527     48965149.82
World   1955-1960   17.398      2772242.535     48231475.62
World   1950-1955   19.096      2536274.721     48432702.07

As you can see, the deadliest year in human history is right now - somewhere in the vicinity of 57 to 61 million.

  • 1
    In case you didn't actualise this recently: This is probably the best answer of all time here on H:SE and the most important — for 'this day' relevance. This comment itself has a half-time life of less than eternity, but absolute numbers need to balanced against a baseline and relative numbers for perspective. Always. This is one perspective. Thanks. – LаngLаngС Dec 11 '20 at 21:41
  • @LаngLаngС Well, it would become false when/if the human population stabilises. Though that might take a century. – Semaphore Dec 14 '20 at 11:06

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