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Yes, It's True: More People Die in January

Illustrator: Priscilla Liu

By: jcampbell

Published: 8 months ago

In this article, originally published in June 2011, Legacy.com founder Stopher Bartol examines the recurring phenomenon of higher death rates in winter months. The article has been updated to reflect current statistics.

Since founding Legacy.com in 1998, I have noticed that the winter months are busier than the summer months. Our newspaper and funeral home partners send us a higher volume of obituaries in December and January than they do in June and July. Anecdotally, many funeral directors I’ve spoken to over the years have told me the wintry months are especially busy times in their profession.

People outside the obituary and funeral industries are also beginning to notice. I was recently asked to weigh in for a Wall Street Journal article investigating why death doesn’t take a holiday but rather seems to work overtime around Christmas and New Year’s. The piece cited research by sociologist David Phillips, who examined 57.5 million U.S. death certificates from 1979 through 2004 and found a recurring rise in deaths during a two-week span beginning on Christmas.

It’s undoubtedly fascinating to discover trends related to death rates. After all, death is something that affects each of us. At Legacy, though, we find it more fascinating to think about the life behind each obituary. Indeed, our company is more about life than it is about death; we strive to be the place where life stories live on, and to help people share memories and preserve legacies as they mourn the loss of a friend or loved one.

In the process, however, we do learn a lot about death trends and statistics, and I don’t mind sharing it for those who are interested.

As we’ve known for years, there are seasonal fluctuations in U.S. deaths. People’s chances of dying in the winter months are significantly greater than in the summer. This is a statistical fact. It is generally true regardless of where they live in the U.S., and it is borne out year after year.

Number of Monthly Deaths in the U.S. from 1980 – 2014

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