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Rates and Ratios

The differences between total deaths and death rates are substantive and can lead analysts to different conclusions. Both are instrumental to the study of population health. Calculation of crude death rates, where total deaths are divided by the total population, produces a measure much more suitable for comparison across time periods and across countries, because the population at risk of death is also changing by time and place.

In Table 2, Durkheim compares suicide death rates to death rates from all causes. He also calculates and provides averages across three time periods. As is common in demography today, specific cause of death rates are presented per 100,000, while all cause of death, crude rates, are presented per 1,000. Table 2 data can be found here.

He also creates ratios of values to make comparison across years easier. This useful arithmetic was particularly helpful in situations where visualization by means of line or bar graphs was much more difficult.

Query systems today offer two advantages for improved interpretation of trends in death rates: calculation of age-adjusted death rates and the easy ability to compare values with charts. The chart below illustrates contemporary age-adjusted death rates from suicide in relation to age-adjusted death rates from all causes.