What’s the best birthday gift for the man who has everything? How about the cold, clammy touch of death’s inevitable embrace? A study on over 2 million people over the course of 40 years show that birthday deaths are strikingly more common than you might think, especially when attributed to heart attack, stroke, suicide, or falls. Poisoned cakes, though not mentioned in the study, are surely a culprit as well.
The study, published in Annals of Epidemiology, aggregates a whole pile of death-related statistics from around the world to whip up its ultimate, surprising numbers. On average, people over 60 are 14% more likely to die on their birthday than any other day. Heart attacks and strokes (not necessarily fatal ones) are up 18.6% and 21.5% on birthdays, respectively. Suicides are 34.9% more likely to occur on a birthday, and falls are a whopping 44% more common on cake day.
Pretty crazy, right? It certainly is, and naturally there’s the question of “why?” According to psychologist professor Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, there are two main lines of thought on the study.
“There are two camps – one is the camp that suggests you eat too much and your getting on a bit and that causes you to die. The other is a placebo effect. You are knife-edged on death. And you kept yourself going until your birthday. You think ‘that’s it I’ve had enough I’m out of here’.”
All that said, it’s a weird thing to research considering that death on a birthday is always remarkable whereas a death on February 3rd (February 3rd birthdays excluded) or some other date isn’t. It’s also worth remembering that while there are many studies that delve into the death rate on a given holiday, holidays are fixed dates and birthdays are not, so when you’re looking to compare probabilities directly, the two don’t exactly match up. Lastly, the elderly tend to die more often, so to speak, so the data obviously skews toward older individuals who are probably more sensitive to stress and surprises that might accompany a birthday.
This doesn’t mean that you should spend your birthday hiding in a closet or anything, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you should spend your 30th birthday fearful that you’re going to fall down a flight of stairs or anything. You might want to think twice about arranging a surprise party for grandpa’s 85th birthday though.
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