Leading Causes of Death in Teens

Updated May 30, 2024 | Posted July 26, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Updates teendeathrateimg 2022

As the nation has expe­ri­enced heart­break­ing loss­es of chil­dren, youth and fam­i­ly mem­bers in count­less mass shoot­ings in recent years, much pub­lic dis­cus­sion has focused on how we can work togeth­er to reduce gun vio­lence in the Unit­ed States. The trag­ic real­i­ty is that too many young peo­ple are dying from pre­ventable caus­es every day, includ­ing acci­dents, homi­cides and sui­cides — the lead­ing caus­es of teen deaths in Amer­i­ca. For­tu­nate­ly, the lat­est data in the KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter show that the teenage death rate due to these lead­ing caus­es declined in 2022, after sharply ris­ing in 2020 and 2021

This post breaks down sta­tis­tics on caus­es of death among ado­les­cents. It explores demo­graph­ic inequities for cer­tain groups and recent trends on pre­ventable deaths among teens, including:

  • the num­ber one cause of death for teenagers;

  • caus­es of death for teens;

  • caus­es of death in ado­les­cence; and

  • teenage death statistics.

Over­all Teenage Death Statistics

The U.S. teen death rate from all caus­es fell by near­ly 50% between 1990 (the ear­li­est year avail­able in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter) and 2013, from 88 deaths per 100,000 teens ages 15 to 19 down to 45 per 100,000, the low­est rate on record in three decades. While many fac­tors con­tribute to death rates, includ­ing access to health care and oth­er resources, com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty and phys­i­cal and men­tal health, the drop in teen mor­tal­i­ty is large­ly due to pub­lic health suc­cess­es to reduce motor vehi­cle accidents.

After 2013, how­ev­er, the ado­les­cent death rate began to climb and then dra­mat­i­cal­ly spiked in 2020 and 2021, peak­ing at 62 deaths per 100,000 teens. This trend may be chang­ing, though, as the 2022 rate declined to 59 per 100,000. The recent spike in teen deaths meant 13,407 young lives were lost in 2021, and although a decrease occurred in 2022, the nation still lost 12,745 more youth that year. The over­all rise in teenage deaths (by num­ber and rate) in the last decade was dri­ven by three lead­ing caus­es, dis­cussed below.

How do ado­les­cent death rates vary by state?

Cer­tain states had par­tic­u­lar­ly high teen death rates in 2022, includ­ing Alas­ka with 111 per 100,000 youth ages 15 to 19, Mon­tana with 108 per 100,000 and Louisiana with 100 per 100,000 — the only states where rates reached 100 or above that year. Even in states with low­er rates, many devi­at­ed from the nation­al trend in 2022, with rates con­tin­u­ing to surge rather than decline. For instance, the fol­low­ing sev­en states and D.C. expe­ri­enced large jumps in rates of teenage deaths from 2021 to 2022:

  • Ore­gon: from 49 to 62 deaths per 100,000 teens ages 15 to 19;
  • D.C.: from 73 to 85 per 100,000;
  • New Mex­i­co: from 88 to 99 per 100,000;
  • Mary­land: from 49 to 60 per 100,000;
  • Nebras­ka: from 53 to 63 per 100,000;
  • Alas­ka: from 103 to 111 per 100,000;
  • Arkansas: from 79 to 87 per 100,000; and
  • Mis­souri: from 83 to 89 per 100,000.

What Are the Lead­ing Caus­es of Death in Adolescents?

Accord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC), the three lead­ing caus­es of mor­tal­i­ty among ado­les­cents ages 15 to 19 are:

  • acci­dents or unin­ten­tion­al injuries (e.g., car crash­es and poi­son­ings, includ­ing over­dos­es): 22 deaths per 100,000 teens in 2022;
  • homi­cides: 13 per 100,000; and
  • sui­cides: 10 per 100,000.

Teen Deaths Due to Acci­dents: Rise in Drug Poi­son­ing and Overdoses

Acci­dents or unin­ten­tion­al injuries have been the num­ber one cause of teenage deaths for decades, although CDC data show that this rate fell by half at the begin­ning of the cen­tu­ry, from 35 per 100,000 in 2002 to 17 per 100,000 in 2013, large­ly due to reduced motor vehi­cle crash­es. Since then, unfor­tu­nate­ly, the rate began to rise and sharply increased in 2020 and 2021, reach­ing 24 deaths per 100,000 ado­les­cents, before declin­ing slight­ly to 22 per 100,000 in 2022.

Pro­vid­ing insight into these trends, the under­ly­ing caus­es of unin­ten­tion­al or acci­den­tal teen deaths have shift­ed over the last two decades: An increas­ing share are due to drug over­dos­es and poi­son­ing, while a decreas­ing share are due to car crash­es. Poi­son­ing and drug over­dos­es made up 31% of acci­den­tal teen deaths in 2022, up from 7% in 2002. Dur­ing the same peri­od, the share of these deaths due to motor vehi­cle col­li­sions fell from 77% to 55%. The nation’s lead­ing health orga­ni­za­tions are urg­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers and oth­ers to take fur­ther action to address the trou­bling rise in over­dos­es among teens and oth­er age groups.

Teen Homi­cides: Firearms Are Dri­ving Increases

Unlike the trends above, the homi­cide rate for teens did not decline in 2022 but remained at its high­est lev­el in more than 20 years: 13 homi­cides per 100,000 youth ages 15 to 19, accord­ing to the CDC. Pri­or to 2022, though, the ado­les­cent homi­cide trend gen­er­al­ly mir­rored that of unin­ten­tion­al injury deaths. That is, in 2014, teen deaths due to homi­cides began climb­ing after improv­ing for many years. Then, in 2020, the rate jumped by 33% from nine homi­cides per 100,000 teens in 2019 to 12 per 100,000. It inched up far­ther in 2021 to 13 per 100,000 and remained there in 2022.

A deep­er dive into the data reveals that the recent rise in youth homi­cides was pri­mar­i­ly dri­ven by firearms. Like the over­all teen homi­cide trend, the num­ber and rate of teen homi­cides due to firearms, specif­i­cal­ly, surged in 2020, con­tin­ued to increase in 2021 and held steady in 2022. Addi­tion­al­ly, when look­ing at all caus­es of ado­les­cent homi­cides over the past 20 years, an increas­ing share have been due to guns — from 83% in 2002 to 95% in 2022.

In recent years, gun vio­lence for any rea­son has become the spe­cif­ic lead­ing cause of death for teens, young adults ages 20 to 24 and adults 25 to 34. In 2022, it also became the spe­cif­ic lead­ing cause of mor­tal­i­ty for younger chil­dren ages 5 to 14.

Teen Sui­cide Rate Declines in 2022

Fol­low­ing a dif­fer­ent tra­jec­to­ry from oth­er lead­ing caus­es of death, the ado­les­cent sui­cide rate peaked in 2017 at 12 per 100,000 youth ages 15 to 19, after steadi­ly increas­ing over the pre­vi­ous decade. This upward trend changed course after 2017, with the rate dip­ping slight­ly in sub­se­quent years and then declin­ing from 11 per 100,000 in 2021 to 10 per 100,000 in 2022.

About half of teen sui­cides were by firearm in recent years, with 49% caused by guns in 2022, up from 42% a decade ago in 2012. Youth sui­cides, and men­tal health more broad­ly, con­tin­ue to be a nation­al cri­sis, with access to care a seri­ous bar­ri­er for many young peo­ple and families.

Con­tin­ued Inequities in Teen Deaths by Race and Ethnicity

One thing has not changed in decades: Black and Amer­i­can Indi­an youth have the high­est death rates of all racial and eth­nic groups. (Note that lim­it­ed dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data by race and eth­nic­i­ty, such as for Asian and Pacif­ic Islander pop­u­la­tions, pre­vent a full com­par­i­son of death rates across all groups.) The KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter pro­vides the teen death rate from all caus­es by race and ethnicity:

  • Black teen death rate: 111 per 100,000 in 2022, a decline from 121 per 100,000 in 2021, but it remains almost twice the nation­al rate and an alarm­ing increase from 78 per 100,000 in 2018 (the ear­li­est year avail­able in the KIDS COUNT Data Center).
  • Amer­i­can Indi­an or Alas­ka Native teen death rate: 84 per 100,000 in 2022, a sub­stan­tial increase from 59 per 100,000 in 2018.
  • Lati­no teen death rate: 55 per 100,000 in 2022, about even with the pre­vi­ous two years and remains just below the nation­al rate, but up from 41 per 100,000 in 2018.
  • White teen death rate: 49 per 100,000 in 2022, an improve­ment from 52 per 100,000 in 2021, after increas­ing two years in a row.
  • Two or more races: The death rate for mul­tira­cial teens inched up steadi­ly from 2018 to 2021, peak­ing at 39 per 100,000 and then drop­ping to 30 per 100,000 in 2022.
  • Asian and Pacif­ic Islander teens: The death rate rose slight­ly over this five-year peri­od, from 25 per 100,000 in 2018 to 28 per 100,000 in 2022.

Accord­ing to the CDC, acci­dents or unin­ten­tion­al injuries remain the lead­ing cause of death for Amer­i­can Indi­an or Alas­ka Native, Lati­no, white and mul­tira­cial ado­les­cents. Among Asian teens ages 15 to 19, the lead­ing cause of death con­tin­ues to be sui­cide. This is true for Asian teenagers whether data are com­bined with Native Hawai­ian and oth­er Pacif­ic Islander (NHPI) youth or pro­vid­ed as a sep­a­rate race cat­e­go­ry. Death rates for NHPI teens as a sep­a­rate cat­e­go­ry are con­sid­ered unre­li­able by the CDC due to small num­bers. How­ev­er, oth­er data reveal con­cern­ing ris­es in both NHPI and Asian youth reports of sui­ci­dal thoughts and depres­sion-relat­ed feel­ings.

Data also show that Amer­i­can Indi­an or Alas­ka Native ado­les­cents have the high­est sui­cide rates among all racial and eth­nic groups and the high­est rates of firearm sui­cide, specif­i­cal­ly. In addi­tion, researchers have flagged large increas­es in sui­cide rates among Black youth in recent years.

The lead­ing cause of death for Black teenagers ages 15 to 19 is homi­cide. A 2023 analy­sis by the Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Gun Vio­lence Solu­tions under­scores that young Black and Lati­no males, par­tic­u­lar­ly young Black males, are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly vic­tims of gun homi­cides and that just over half of all deaths among Black teens are due to firearms. These racial dis­par­i­ties are per­pet­u­at­ed by sys­temic inequities, such as: 

  • socioe­co­nom­ic inequality;
  • lack of access to opportunities;
  • under-resourced neigh­bor­hoods; and
  • dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Con­tin­ued Dis­par­i­ties in Teen Deaths by Gender

For all three lead­ing caus­es of death in ado­les­cence, males die at much high­er rates than females.* For instance, accord­ing to 2022 teenage death sta­tis­tics from the CDC:

  • The rate of unin­ten­tion­al injury deaths for males ages 15 to 19 is more than twice that of their female coun­ter­parts: 30 per 100,000 ver­sus 14 per 100,000, respectively.
  • The homi­cide rate for male teens is more than four times the rate for females: 22 per 100,000 com­pared to four per 100,000. This is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death for males ages 15 to 19 and the third for females.
  • While sui­cide is the third lead­ing cause of death for male youth in this age group and the sec­ond for females, the male sui­cide rate remains three times high­er than the female rate: 15 per 100,000 ver­sus five per 100,000. How­ev­er, a recent 40-year review of ado­les­cent sui­cides found that increas­es in female sui­cide rates have sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced this gen­der gap.

These dis­par­i­ties have per­sist­ed for many years and exist for old­er and younger age groups, too. Some death rates have wors­ened for young males in recent years, as well. A 2024 analy­sis, for exam­ple, found that the rate of all deaths due to firearms increased by 50% for male chil­dren and teens from 2018 to 2022, while the same rate for female youth remained fair­ly lev­el and much lower.

The dri­ving forces behind these gen­der dif­fer­ences are not ful­ly known. Researchers have pro­posed a range of bio­log­i­cal, behav­ioral and social fac­tors that may be con­tribut­ing to high­er rates of pre­ventable deaths among young males. Some expla­na­tions include dif­fer­ences in gen­der role social­iza­tion, impul­siv­i­ty and per­ceived or real high­er lev­els of aggres­sion in males” that could lead to high­er-risk behav­ior. The rea­sons for the dis­par­i­ties like­ly vary by cause of death, as well. In the case of sui­cides, female ado­les­cents are more like­ly to con­sid­er and attempt sui­cide, although males are more like­ly to com­mit sui­cide because they tend to use more lethal methods.

Each loss of life is a tragedy and takes an emo­tion­al and eco­nom­ic toll on fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. We know that it’s pos­si­ble to reduce pre­ventable deaths, and each indi­vid­ual, sec­tor and lev­el of gov­ern­ment can take steps to reverse these con­cern­ing trends among youth in our com­mu­ni­ties. Keep read­ing below for infor­ma­tion on strate­gies for action.

Access More Resources and Stay Connected

Find all death-relat­ed sta­tis­tics in the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter. The teen deaths indi­ca­tor is includ­ed in the Child Well-Being Index, as part of the KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Also, check out the Foun­da­tion’s report on improv­ing com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty through the use of pub­lic health strate­gies.

Sign up for our newslet­ters to get the lat­est data, reports and oth­er resources.

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