Does the death postponement phenomenon really exist?
Paper in proceeding, 2020

It is a common belief that people close to death from natural causes can postpone their imminent death if they see a strong reason to survive a bit longer. This is known as the Postponement hypothesis: that a meaningful occasion can act as a motivator to prolong life for a short amount of time. A few studies have already addressed this hypothesis but their conclusions are contradictory.

To check the postponement hypothesis, we analysed almost 249 thousand cases in the dataset for South African people who died in the year 2015. We took a person’s birthday as the meaningful occasion and analyse the death rate around this date using statistical models offered by survival analysis. If the hypothesis is true, it can be expected that the mortality rate should be lower a period just before the birthday and, perhaps, higher shortly afterwards.

The results of our analysis show that no postponement of death can be seen for the examined dataset. In fact, to the contrary, the data suggest that the mortality rate is higher both before and after the birthday. Speculations as to why this is the case might be a higher risk associated with the stress of expectations for the birthday as well as an earlier start of celebrations with associated departure from the recommended regime.


death rate


hazard function



Sergey Zuev

Chalmers, Mathematical Sciences, Analysis and Probability Theory

Holger Rootzen

Chalmers, Mathematical Sciences, Applied Mathematics and Statistics

SMTDA 2020 - Proceedings

International Conference with Demographics Workshop
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Environmental Health and Occupational Health

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Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology

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