Feeling especially down on or around your birthday? You're not alone. There are plenty of folks out there who succumb to the birthday blues as their big day approaches. Several studies conducted on the birthday effect show significant upticks in deaths at the time of birthdays. Other studies demonstrate substantial dips in deaths before the birthday with a higher increase afterward. In contrast, other studies show no decline beforehand.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Is the Birthday Effect?
- Is It Really More Common to Die on Your Birthday?
- Studies That Tried to Explain the Birthday Effect
Regardless of these studies, people can at least say that the birthday effect phenomenon imposes a sort of psychological deadline for many individuals. It can affect all genders equally while increasing the chances of dying on or around their birthdays. A person's attitude towards their birthday has a significant role in viewing their birthday dreadfully or seeing it as a pleasurable occasion. Continue reading below to learn more about how your birthday can have you thinking about mortality.
What Is the Birthday Effect?
Questioning what happens when we die is a natural and normal part of the aging process, especially for folks approaching the end of their natural life span. Learning how to accept death is one of many things older people or those facing terminal illness struggle with as another birthday approaches.
The birthday effect includes having intrusive thoughts about death that can affect both young and old alike, increasing the mortality rate on or around a person’s birthday.
For individuals with a preoccupation with or who are scared of death, they may view each upcoming birthday as a signal that they’re one year closer to the end of their life. Sometimes these thoughts about death and dying lead to increased stress and negative behaviors that often contribute to someone dying at or around their birthday. Other factors adding to increased mortality include:
- Increased suicide risk
- People nearing the end of life holding on until their birthday
- Physiological changes due to aging
Is It Really More Common to Die on Your Birthday?
Statistics show that individuals are more likely to die on their birthday than on any other day, but maybe not for the reasons you might be thinking. Studies show that men and women view their birthdays differently, and men tend to approach their birthdays as a marker or deadline. In contrast, some women see their birthdays as symbolic, prolonging death until reaching this meaningful milestone.
Because of these psychological differences in how one views birthdays, male mortality shows a peak right before their birthday while the female statistic shows a dip, then peak in the rate of death before a birthday.
Females tend to wait for the anniversary of their birthday as a milestone to let go of life, and males see approaching birthdays as the deadline to when death should occur. In either event, an individual's psychology is affected by a looming birthday that can significantly impact why people tend to die on their birthdays more so than any other day.
Studies That Tried to Explain the Birthday Effect
In the past few decades, scientists and researchers conducted several studies to explain the birthday effect and learn how human psychology affects a person’s predisposition to die around their birthday.
Findings in some research show that a female is more likely to pass the week following their birthday, while male psychology has them trying to beat a deadline with death, thus accounting for why men more often die the week leading up to their birthdays.
Other scientific studies expand on these theories while others yet dispel them. The following is a sampling of some more renowned studies on the birthday effect from different countries worldwide.
The United States (1992)
A 1992 study by a University of California San Diego professor David P. Phillips shows an increase in the mortality rate at or around these special days for some individuals. In his study on natural death around a person's birthday and other significant holidays, Phillips reviewed the death certificates of over 2.7 million deceased persons to support his findings.
From these, he omitted individuals undergoing surgery near the time of their death, those whose birthdays coincided with holidays, and anyone who was born in a leap year.
The study also looked at the ratio in deaths split between male and female and certain races of individuals who died in the state of California, ranging in age from sixty to eighty years old. His findings concluded that the male versus female gender roles play a significant factor in why more men die in the weeks leading up to their birthdays, while women tend to die either on their birthday or in the week following.
Phillips’ study shows patterns indicating that a person's self-worth and sense of accomplishment in the male gender lends to conclusions of whether they give up on life around their next birthday or hold on until after reaching the next milestone.
Because women place a higher value on their personal and family relationships, female death rates decline in the weeks and days leading up to their next birthday. They want to hold on as long as possible to make their death memorable.
England and Wales (1972)
A British study of aging individuals in England and Wales conducted in the early 1970s by M. Alderson studied instances of death between an individual's birth month and month of death. Individual deaths reviewed for this analysis included eight subgroups further classified by gender and marital status. This study showed that for persons aged 75 and over, there was an increase in the death rate during their birth month and the three months that followed.
Alderson concluded that aging individuals' birthdays have a psychological effect on their confidence and self-esteem. Stress levels around a birthday also contributed to the increase in a person's mortality rate, but further studies were still needed to publish these findings.
Among the factors considered during his research, Alderson analyzed population censuses and surveys related to mortality for England and Wales in the year 1972. He looked at the month of birth and month of death for all persons who died over the age of 65 and categorized them by marital status.
Of those cases reviewed, a clear pattern emerged, showing a decline in deaths before an individual's birth month. However, the month of birth showed a rise in the number of fatalities, concluding that stress contributes to why a person's more likely to die during their birth month than any other time of year.
The Swiss researcher Dr. Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross, published a study on death data relating to 2.4 million deceased individuals aged forty and over. He found that the likelihood of dying on your birthday is over 13 percent higher than on any other day.
Dr. Ajdacic-Gross found a higher death correlation of stress-induced factors such as strokes, cancer, accidents, and other types of death on a particular individual's birthday. He concluded that birthday- and stress-related symptoms and conditions lead to more fatalities. The risk of death on a birthday also significantly increased in persons over 60.
When further detailing the causes of death among genders, he noted that men are more prone to suicide than women by over 30 percent. He theorizes that males suffer from low self-esteem that grows as they age, causing more suicide ideation than females. By contrast, females don't consider suicide as much as males near their birthdays out of concern for the emotional trauma it might inflict on their loved ones.
Overall, this study concluded that there's a definite correlation in the increase of dying on an individual's birthday that links to stress levels, issues of self-worth and self-esteem, as well as an increase in accidental deaths related to negative behaviors as contributing factors.
A decade-long study on mortality of over one hundred thousand individuals during 1990-2000 in Kyiv concluded a strong correlation between an individual's death and their birthday. This team studied mortality rates in individuals of different ages and their causes of death, and they included fatalities due to all major causes of death.
They concluded that an individual's emotional stress or birthday-related changes in their behavior didn't impact the overall reasons why a person dies on their birthday.
The researchers came up with an entirely different approach explaining why this phenomenon occurs. They think that there's an imprint of birth stress in a person's biological rhythms resulting in their interpretation of why the birthday effect is naturally occurring.
This group of researchers states that dying on one's birthday can't be related to specific changes in risks and behaviors around one's birthday because the mortality rate increased both before and after a person's birthday.
The researchers rely on their hypothesis that an individual's birth imprint affects their well-being and susceptibility to a decline in their overall health yearly beginning with gestation. Every year after birth results in the added development of birth stress imprinted on these biological rhythms leading to an increased mortality rate right around the same time.
Birthdays as Deadlines and Lifelines
Dying on your birthday can have significant meaning for many individuals nearing the end of life. A birthday death can symbolize the end of a life well-lived and going out in a meaningful and legendary way, or it can mean that life gave one last birthday as a way of marking a deadline. The meaning attached to a birthday death is as unique to each individual as the day they were born. For some, dying on their birthday has a special meaning that can even be considered a blessing.
- Anderson, Michael. "Relationship between month of birth and month of death in the elderly." British Journal of Preventive & Social Medicine, 1975, Jech.bmj.com.
- Phillips, David P., Camilla A. Van Voorhees, and Todd E. Ruth. "The birthday: lifeline or deadline?" Psychosomatic Medicine, 1992, Iteseerx.ist.psu.edu.
- Vaiserman, Alexander, Pavel Grigoryev, Irina Belaya, and Vladimir Voitenko. “Variation of mortality rate during the individual annual cycle.” Biogerontology, Research Gate, August 2003, Researchgate.net.
- Zamichow, Nora. “Study Finds Many Live, Die for Birthdays: Medicine: Women hang in there, while men tend to throw in the towel before that personal anniversary, a UCSD researcher finds.” Los Angeles Times, 21 September 1992, Latimes.com.