This study of United States life tables analyzes the process of mortality transition during 1850–1968. Special features of the study are (1) a phase-specific, rather than an age-specific, analysis of mortality and (2) use of measures based on person-years of life (nLx) in phase-intervals, rather than survival rates (nPx) or expectation of life at given ages (exo). The analysis suggests that the historical transition of mortality in the United States can be described as a three-stage process: an initial stage of slow improvement in life expectancy during 1850–1900, a second stage of rapid improvement during 1900–1950, and a third stage of slower improvement since 1950. Quantitative measures of rapidity of mortality decline in the several phases indicate that they are not identical for all phases and in all stages. The analysis also suggests that there have been rapid changes in the components of overall mortality differentials by sex and race in the United States. The paper draws attention to the need for studies of factors in variations of mortality at ages beyond 50 in the United States population subgroups.

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