Vital Statistics of the United States, 1937-1941

Homicides, Suicides, Motor Vehicle Accident Deaths, and Other Accident Deaths

Compiled by Randolph Roth

October 2009 version

The Bureau of the Census has gathered vital statistics for the United States since 1900. Data were gathered, however, only from states that met the requirements for inclusion in the Death Registration Area (DRA). To merit inclusion, states had to demonstrate that they kept a record of 90% or more of the deaths that occurred each year. Only a handful of states met those standards in 1900, but by 1933 the DRA included every state in the union and the territories of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Beginning in 1937, the Bureau reported deaths from major causes cross-classified by state, race (white and nonwhite), gender, and age category. The data for 1937-1941 are thus the first to offer a comprehensive cross-classified tally of homicides, suicides, motor vehicle accidents, and other accidents in the United States.

The data were compiled by Randolph Roth for his study of American Homicide (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009). They are drawn from:

Bureau of the Census. 1937-1941. Vital Statistics of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

The data, 1938-1941, are coded for homicides (hom), suicides (sui), motor vehicle accidents (mv), and other accidents (oa). The 1937 data differs slightly, because it coded automobile accidents (auto) separately from other motorized-vehicle accidents (omv).

The HVD plans to create spreadsheets on deaths from external causes for the Mortality Statistics of the United States, 1900-1936, and the vital statistics of the United States, 1942-1972, so that scholars will have access to the complete run of data. The references are:

Bureau of the Census. 1906-38. Mortality Statistics, 1900-1936. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office.

Bureau of the Census. 1942-1972. Vital Statistics of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

The data from 1968 to the present are available directly from the National Center for Health Statistics or more conveniently from the National Board of Economic Research, which offers syntax files that allow the data to be loaded directly into SPSS or SAS (although the syntax requires modification before it can be used). The web addresses are:

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data_access/VitalStatsOnline.htm

These files list every individual (minus personal identifiers) who died each year. They record the gender, race, and age of the individual, as well as the principal and contributing causes of death. The data can be aggregated by state, age, race, gender, and cause of death for a variety of causes using the NCHS’s “Wonder” system, a user-friendly program that works with the data from 1979 to the present.

Researchers should be cautioned that the 1972 NCHS file represents only a half-sample of the deaths that occurred in that year. That is why the HVD is compiling spreadsheets of the aggregate data through 1972. The other files, however, from 1968 to present, list all of the deaths that were recorded by the vital statistics departments of each state in each year.

Spreadsheets


[csv] - Some links on this page are to .csv files requiring the use of a database program. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

[xls] - Some links on this page are to Microsoft .xls files requiring the use of Microsoft Excel. If you need these files in a more accessible format, please contact cjrc@osu.edu.

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