Back to this week’s maps and hints.

Answer: This week’s map was a choropleth on which each country was shaded in accordance with its overall death rate.

A death rate is calculated as the number of deaths out of a set size of population in a given period of time. Most often, it is the number of deaths among 1,000 people in one year. In the U.S., the death rate is around 8.2 deaths per 1,000 people per year.

The data used to make this map came from the 2017 estimates provided by the CIA World Factbook. According to those statistics, the countries with the highest death rates are Lesotho (15.0), Lithuania (14.6), and Bulgaria (14.5). The country with the lowest death rates are Kuwait (2.2), the United Arab Emirates (1.9), and Qatar (1.5).

The single greatest factor affecting the death rate of a country is its demographic makeup. A country with an older population will have a higher death rate because more old people will die in any given year. That’s why death rates are generally high in developed countries, which tend to have older populations. Conversely, a country with a younger population will have a lower death rate. That’s why the countries with the lowest death rates are Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, which combine decent health care systems with relatively young populations.

But demographics don’t tell the whole story. You may remember from Map #22, our choropleth of countries by fertility rate, that Niger has a fertility rate of 7.6. As a result, Niger also has a very young population. But in large part because Niger has a poor healthcare system, it has the 23rd highest death rate in the world (11.8). Lesotho, the country with the highest death rate, also has a fairly young population. There, the death rate is affected by the fact that 23.4% of the adult population is living with HIV.

As you can see, a country’s death rate is determined by many different factors, which makes this map difficult to guess!

In the case of one country, we deviated from the estimates provided by the CIA World Factbook. That country was Syria, where a devastating civil war has been raging since 2011. The death rate in Syria is impossible to calculate because of the upheaval, which has left some 45% of the population displaced. The United Nations has largely given up trying to determine demographic statistics within Syria. Plus, all estimates are complicated by the refugee crisis—if a Syrian refugee dies in a neighboring country, do you add that death to the death rate for Syria or for the country in which it occurred? For this map, we have used an estimate of the Syrian Centre for Policy Research that the death rate in Syria is now 10.9 deaths per 1,000 people per year. This rate is considerably higher than the one in the CIA World Factbook, but it seems more plausible.

Even with the enhanced estimate, however, the death rate in Syria is lower than the death rates of many Eastern European countries. That’s why death rate on its own is not a great measure of the devastation in Syria and other countries wracked by war.