Blog By Barry

January 5, 2009

On Boys’ Higher Accidental Death Rate

Filed under: Sexism hurts men — Ampersand @ 4:45 am

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a new report out, about accidental deaths among children age 0-19. The most likely time for a kid to die in an accident is when they’re aged 15-19; the second most likely time is in the first year of life. (See the chart on page 25).

One thing that sticks out, glancing through the report, is that in every age group boys are more likely to die from an accident than girls. But the magnitude of the difference varies, as you can see in this chart:

Table showing injury-related accidental deaths by age and sex for children age 0 to 19

Under a year of age, the death rate for girls is 22 per 100,000, compared to 27 per 100 per boys, which is a fairly small difference (put another way, for every 10 girl infants who die accidently, 12 boy infants die accidentally). In contrast, for the 15-19 year olds, the rates are 20 and 45 per 100,000 — for every 10 girls who die, 23 boys die.

It’s also clear that the youngest and the oldest groups are the groups most at risk of dying by accident. In the youngest group, the most common cause of accidental death is suffocation; in all other age groups, the most common cause of death is a transportation-related accident (mostly accidents involving motor vehicles, although a few are accidents involving bikes). The slight uptick in the likelihood of 10-14 year olds dying — and then the enormous leap in deaths for 15-19 year olds — is entirely caused by the higher numbers of vehicle-related deaths in those age groups. ((See the graph on page 33 of the report.))

Most of the differences in accidental death rates, I suspect, come about because boys are encouraged by both grown-ups and peers to be physical risk-takers; part of being a boy’s boy, in our culture, is taking risks. I don’t say this to blame boys. Instead, I think this is one clear way society’s sexism, and in particular our conception of masculinity, is harming some boys.

Anti-feminist Robert Franklin doesn’t think risk-taking can explain why more boys age 10-14 die in vehicle accidents:

Given that children under the age of 14 generally don’t drive cars, what’s the explanation for that?

The explanation is, some 14 year olds do drive cars.

By far the highest death rates for kids age 10-14 are in Alaska and North Dakota ((See page 48 of the CDC report.)) — both states where 14 year olds can get learners permits. Meanwhile, the four states with the lowest death rates for 10-14 are states that won’t give learner’s permits until age 16.

Although there must be other factors involved, ((One state with learners permits for 14 year olds, Iowa, has only average death rates for 10-14 year olds.)) it’s clear that in areas where 14 year olds can legally drive, 14 year olds are more likely to die in car accidents. And probably 14 year old boys take more risks driving than 14 year old girls.

What really puzzles me is why boys under the age of 1 are about 50% more likely to die of suffocation than girls. Elkins suggested to me that boys may just be more fragile than girls at that age (which would also explain boys’ higher rates of SIDS). A couple of anti-feminists who have left comments to Robert’s post think it’s because evil male-hating women are selectively murdering infant boys and disguising the deaths as accidents. (Gee, there’s nothing insane-o about that movement.)

Another puzzling (to me) finding is that accidental deaths by poisoning are far more common among 15-19 year olds. One possibility is that “poisoning” includes alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses; another is that perhaps some suicide deaths are being counted as accidental deaths. (This is also a possibility for some of the vehicle-related deaths.)



  1. Barry, please. This is just silly.

    Yes of course some 14-year-olds operate motor vehicles. My only point was and is that that can’t explain the greater number of male deaths under the age of 14 and it doesn’t. It’s obvious from the study that many males die in MVAs who aren’t driving.

    But more importantly, you call me an anti-feminist. I’m no such thing. Feminists have two problems with me. The first is that I call them on the intellectual dishonesty of their writings.

    The second is that I truly support gender equality which, I’m forced to conclude, most public feminists (i.e those who write, speak, etc. publicly and organizations which characterize themselves as feminist) do not. In fact, I’ve actively supported gender equality for four decades. For most of that time I called myself a feminist. Unfortunately feminism got off the gender-equality track which fact forced me to stop calling myself a feminist.

    But any time feminism generally wants to return to the goal of gender equality, I’ll be right there. The same as I always have been.

    Comment by Robert Franklin — January 5, 2009 @ 3:39 pm

  2. Robert, I don’t understand why you think it’s “silly” to think that it’s not a coincidence that the states with the highest death rates for the 10-14 year old group, also have learners’ permits at age 14.

    Maybe it’s just a coincidence — correlation is not causation, after all — but the potential for those two things to be connected seems, well, obvious.

    Maybe we disagree on this. But it seems over-the-top for you to suggest I’m intellectually dishonest and “silly’ because we disagree on something as minor as this. I really didn’t intend my post to be a slam on you; sorry if you disagree with that.

    Finally, I’m all for gender equality. Probably it’s the details we disagree on, not the goal of gender equality.

    Comment by Ampersand — January 5, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

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