Major causes of death in the U.S.: 1900 and 2018

The leading causes of death in the United States have changed significantly from the year 1900 to the present. Leading causes of death in 1900, such as tuberculosis, gastrointestinal infections, and diphtheria have seen huge decreases in death rates and are no longer among the leading causes of death in the U.S. However, other diseases such as heart disease and cancer have seen increased death rates.


One major factor contributing to the decrease in death rates for many diseases since the year 1900 is the introduction of vaccinations. The decrease seen in the rates of death due to pneumonia and influenza is a prime example of this. In 1900, pneumonia and influenza were the leading causes of death, with around 202 deaths per 100,000 population. However, although pneumonia and influenza were still the eighth leading cause of death in 2018, the rate of death was only 14.9 per 100,000 population.


One disease that has seen a large increase in death rates since 1900 is cancer. Cancer currently accounts for around 21 percent of all deaths in the United States, with death rates among males higher than those for females. The deadliest form of cancer for both genders is cancer of the lung and bronchus. Some of the most common avoidable risk factors for cancer include smoking, drinking alcohol, sun exposure, and obesity.

Top 10 causes of death in the U.S. in 1900 and 2018

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Release date

January 2020


United States

Survey time period

1900 and 2018

Supplementary notes

* Figures for 1900 were taken from a separate source and can be found here.

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Statistics on "Diseases"

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