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Deaths and causes of death, 2015

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Released: 2018-02-23

The total number of deaths in Canada was 264,333 in 2015, the highest annual total since the introduction of the vital statistics registration system in 1921. Every province and territory except Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut reported a record number of deaths in 2015.

The increase in the total number of deaths can be attributed to two factors. The first is the population of Canada is growing at the fastest pace among G7 countries. A larger population generates more deaths. The second factor is population aging. An increasing share of the population is now older and death rates increase with age. The number of deaths is projected to continue increasing in Canada in tandem with the aging of the large cohorts of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1965.

There were slightly more male deaths (133,441) than female deaths (130,892) in Canada in 2015. These numbers have been converging since the late 1970s because female deaths have been increasing at a faster pace than male deaths.

Over the last 30 years, gains in life expectancy at birth are higher for men than for women

Despite the increase in the number of deaths, life expectancy in Canada has increased over time.

Life expectancy is calculated over a three-year period. All life expectancy data in this release are based on three-year averages.

Based on the age-specific mortality rates, life expectancy at birth in Canada was 79.8 years for men and 83.9 years for women from 2013 to 2015. On average, life expectancy at birth has risen annually by an average of 2.8 months for men and 1.7 months for women over the last 30 years. Consequently, the gap in life expectancy between men and women fell from over seven years in the early 1980s to 4.1 years from 2013 to 2015. Annual gains in life expectancy have slowed over the past two decades, reaching 1.6 months for men and 1.2 months for women between 2011 to 2013 and 2013 to 2015.

Life expectancy at birth is highest in British Columbia and lowest in Nunavut

British Columbia once again reported the country's highest life expectancy at birth from 2013 to 2015, both for men (80.5 years) and for women (84.6 years). British Columbia has led the country since 1994 to 1996 for women and since 1992 to 1994 for men. From 2013 to 2015, men's life expectancy at birth was 80 years and older in three provinces: Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. Women's life expectancy at birth has been 80 years and older in every province since 1998 to 2000.

Nunavut had the lowest life expectancy at birth in Canada, at 69.2 years for men and 73.9 years for women from 2013 to 2015. This was 10.6 years below the national average for men and 10.0 years below the average for women. Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest life expectancy at birth among the provinces, at 77.2 years for men and 81.5 years for women.

Cancer and heart disease remain the two leading causes of death in 2015

Cancer (malignant tumours) and heart disease were the two leading causes of death in 2015, accounting for 48.6% of all deaths. However, this was a marked decline compared with 2000 when they accounted for 54.0% of all deaths. The decrease was essentially due to the relative decline in heart disease, which fell from 25.3% in 2000 to 19.5% in 2015, while the percentage of deaths caused by cancer remained stable.

In 2015, the eight other leading causes of death were the same as in 2014: stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents (unintentional injuries), diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, Alzheimer's disease, suicide and liver diseases (chronic liver disease and cirrhosis). Together, the 10 leading causes of death accounted for 195,759 deaths or nearly three-quarters of all deaths in 2015.

Among the 10 leading causes of death, influenza and pneumonia saw the largest annual increase, with 1,033 more individuals dying of this cause in 2015 than in 2014, an increase of 15.7%. Influenza and pneumonia replaced diabetes as the sixth leading cause of death in 2015.

This category can be divided into its two components, influenza and pneumonia. Influenza represents the lesser and more volatile of the two, accounting for 21.2% of the deaths but 66.4% of the increase in deaths. In 2015, the number of influenza deaths increased 73.5% from 2014. Deaths due to influenza and pneumonia are strongly associated with age. In 2015, 74.7% of all deaths attributable to influenza and pneumonia were among people aged 80 years and older.

Several causes of death rose significantly from 2000 to 2015, particularly chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (+44.0%), accidents (unintentional injuries) (+37.8%) and Alzheimer's disease (+31.6%). Meanwhile, stroke and heart disease decreased slightly over this period.

Cancer and heart disease were the two leading causes of death in every province and territory except Nunavut, where suicide was the second leading cause of death, ahead of heart disease. Stroke was the third leading cause of death in every province except Nova Scotia, Quebec and the territories. In Nova Scotia, Quebec and Yukon, chronic respiratory diseases were the third leading cause. Accidents were the third leading cause of death in the Northwest Territories.

The leading causes of death vary by sex and age

The two leading causes of death are the same for both sexes: cancer and heart disease. The third leading cause of death varies by sex. Men die more frequently from accidents and women die more frequently from strokes.

Among individuals under 35 years of age (excluding those under one year old), the two leading causes of death are accidents and suicide. After age 45, cancer and heart disease become the two leading causes of death. However, there are a few differences between the sexes.

Accidents are the leading cause of death for men younger than 45 years of age. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for men aged 15 to 44 years. These two causes of death peak among men aged 15 to 24 years, and accounted for 64.6% of all deaths in this age group in 2015. Based on the age-specific suicide rate, men aged 45 to 54 years had the highest rate of suicide (27.6 per 100,000 population) in 2015, followed by men 55 to 64 years of age (26.6 per 100,000 population). These were the only two age groups where suicide rates increased since 2010. After the age of 45, cancer and heart disease becomes predominant, accounting for 61.9% of all deaths among men aged 65 to 74 years.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for all women except those aged 15 to 24 years old and those 90 years and older. As with men, accidents and suicide are the two leading causes of death for women aged 15 to 24 years, accounting for 56.4% of deaths in this age group in 2015. The second leading cause of death for women under the age of 45—with the exception of the 15-to-24 age group—was accidents. From age 45 onward, cancer and heart disease become the leading causes of death, peaking between the ages of 55 and 64, and accounting for 65.3% of all deaths for this age group in 2015.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women 90 years of age and older, followed by cancer.

Sustainable Development Goals

On January 1, 2016, the world officially began implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — the United Nations' transformative plan of action that addresses urgent global challenges over the next 15 years. The plan is based on 17 specific sustainable development goals.

Deaths and Causes of Death is an example of how Statistics Canada supports the reporting on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. This release will be used in helping to measure the following goal:

  Note to readers

Data on deaths and causes of death are collected by the Canadian Vital Statistics – Death Database. It is an administrative survey that collects demographic and medical (cause of death) information annually from all provincial and territorial vital statistics registries on all deaths in Canada.

The data are used to calculate basic indicators, such as cause-specific death rates and life expectancy, on the mortality of Canadians.

Data for reference year 2015 from the Canadian Vital Statistics – Death Database are now available.


The 2013/2015 edition of the publication Life Tables, Canada, Provinces and Territories (Catalogue number84-537-X), includes complete life tables (for Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) and abridged life tables (for Prince Edward Island, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) from 1980 to 1982 to 2013 to 2015. All of these tables are available for men, women and both sexes combined, in two formats: CANSIM tables, and annual or historical Excel files available in publication Catalogue number84-537-X.

The life tables have been updated on the basis of a slightly revised methodology and the most recent population estimates. The methodology used to produce complete and abridged life tables produced by Statistics Canada is available in the document Methods for Constructing Life tables for Canada, Provinces and Territories (Catalogue number84-538-X).

You can also consult the publication Health Indicators (Catalogue number82-221-X), which has been updated.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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