Registered deaths in 2019

Were deaths in 2019 in England and Wales high?

As a Statistical Ambassador, journalists ask for analysis and help with their articles. There was a suspicion that deaths in 2019 might show an early presence of COVID-19.

This article considers that suggestion for registered deaths in England and Wales.

Seasonal cycles

We should recognise the seasonal pattern in death registrations. There are more deaths registered in winter months than in summer.

‘Excess winter mortality’ is often used as a proxy measure for deaths relating to cold weather. There are problems with this measurement, such as very cold days outside of December to March.

The figures show when the registrations happen, not when the deaths occurred. Public holidays could affect numbers registered in those weeks.

There were large spikes in registered deaths in 2014/15 and 2017/18. (Image: ggplot2)

Big Trends

In England and Wales, there are two major trends.

First, the ONS found reductions in mortality rates have stalled. The age-standard mortality rate in 2018 was like the earlier part of the decade.

Mortality rate reductions stall in England and Wales. (Image: ONS)

Second, the population is getting bigger and, on average, older.

Under those two trends, we would generally see increased numbers of registered deaths.

This is what has happened if we look at weeks 41 to 52 in each year. Note that 2015 has a reporting week 53, ending on 1st January 2016.

There has been a general increase in registered deaths through the decade.


For those aged 45 and over, the elevation in registered deaths is within expectations.

I use annotations instead of a legend here. (Image: ggplot2)

The increased deaths were moderate. In England and Wales, we have a stalling mortality rate and a bigger population. That increase is in line with established trends.

The code for the graphs is available on GitHub and R Pubs. The Office for National Statistics data was drawn from deaths registered weekly in England and Wales.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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