Matthew Miner's Dazzling Data Displays


What Percentage of Men Die before Their Wives?

It is a common belief that men die before their wives. A visit to any assisted living facility seems to bear this out. However, that's not the most scientific method as there could be many more factors that influence that. Say, men could be more stubborn and insistent on staying at home or men could die more suddenly. I cannot find any statistics on nursing home populations anyway.

A better way to determine it is with census data. Most husbands are ~2 years older than their wives. Therefore, all we have to do is look at an actuarial life table to get a good estimate of how many of which gender outlive the other. However, married men also live 20 months longer than their bachelor cohorts (though only 52% of men are married), so we have to subtract 1 year back off.

The relevant rows from the SSA's Period Life Table are therefore (essentially) the following:

Age Percentage of Men Still Living Percentage of Women Still Living
83 36.224% 51.779%
84 33.015% 48.372%

By age 83—the time essentially half of women die—two-thirds of their husbands will have died. An even split would be 24.1% of each gender, but men have an extra 18.8% dead. If you take the ratio of their deaths, you end up with your answer: 64% of men die before their wives.

Show Math 0.2411 + 0.18783 0.2411 + 0.2411 + 0.18783 = 0.640

This is based of the median, so it could theoretically be skewed a bit. Couples where a spouse dies young have the man die over three-fourths of the time, while couples who make it past 100 regress to being evenly split. However, I tried weighting the rates by how many died at each age, and that indeed resulted in 64% as well, so I am confident that is a pretty accurate figure.