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Exp Gerontol. 1997 Nov-Dec;32(6):615-31.

A biologically motivated partitioning of mortality.

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  • 1Center for Mechanistic Biology and Biotechnology, Argonne National Laboratory 60439-4833, Illinois, USA.


For over a century, actuaries and biologists working independently of each other have presented arguments for why total mortality needs to be partitioned into biologically meaningful subcomponents. These mortality partitions tended to overlook genetic diseases that are inherited because the partitions were motivated by a paradigm focused on aging. In this article, we combine and extend the concepts from these disciplines to develop a conceptual partitioning of total mortality into extrinsic and intrinsic causes of death. An extrinsic death is either caused or initiated by something that orginates outside the body of an individual, while an intrinsic death is either caused or initiated by processes that originate within the body. It is argued that extrinsic mortality has been a driving force in determining why we die when we do from intrinsic causes of death. This biologically motivated partitioning of mortality provides a useful perspective for researchers interested in comparative mortality analyses, the consequences of population aging, limits to human life expectancy, the progress made by the biomedical sciences against lethal diseases, and demographic models that predict the life expectancy of future populations.

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