Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Global mortality trends and patterns in older women

Gretchen A Stevens, Colin D Mathers & John R Beard


To describe mortality patterns in women older than 50 years in light of the growth, seen in almost all countries, in the absolute number of females in this age group and in the proportion of the female population comprising older women.


National death record data and World Health Organization estimates of life expectancy and causes of death in women older than 50 years were analysed. Projections of trends in mortality, by cause, at older ages were also made.


In both developed and developing countries, the leading causes of death among older women were cardiovascular diseases and cancers. In countries with death registration data, cardiovascular and (to a lesser extent) cancer mortality appears to have declined in older women in recent decades and this decline has resulted in improved life expectancy at age 50. If these trends continue, deaths in older women are still expected to increase in number because of population growth and ageing.


Noncommunicable diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases and cancers, are expected to cause an increasing share of women’s deaths in low- and middle-income countries owing to the ageing of the population and to reductions in child and maternal deaths. Health systems must adjust accordingly, perhaps by drawing on lessons from high-income countries that have succeeded in reducing mortality from noncommunicable diseases.