Tag: statistics

WWW: Death, Ages, and Rome

Ever forget to turn in a homework assignment? Have a really bad test while in school? Remember what that did to your grade? When you’re dealing with averages, zeroes are killers, dragging things down hard. Get a couple of zeroes, or an assortment of other low numbers, and it takes a lot of high numbers to get everything back to normal.

I’m not talking about grades. I’m talking about character ages. And I’m talking about lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Looking at the life expectancy in the ancient world is rough. Go to classical Rome and life expectancy is just 28 years. That is a stunningly low numbers. So it’s tempting, if writing a story set in that time, to keep characters to that age or younger, to refer to anyone who has even reached their 30s as though they’re Methuselah. But life expectancy numbers hide a statistical lie that drag the number down.

If you were born in Rome, on the day you were born your average lifespan would be just 28 years, that’s true. But that number comes from taking every person who dies, and averaging their ages out. The hard truth is that if you were born in classical Rome, your chances of making it out of childhood were only around 60-68% depending on your source. That’s a hell of an infant mortality rate, and it’s a hell of a lot of zeroes when determining life expectancy. Truth is when you were born, your life expectancy was 28 years, but if you made it to 15 your life expectancy was 52. When crafting characters, and when determining how characters react to fellows of a given age, that’s the more important number. The question isn’t what age the average person being born would die, it’s more a question of the average age that someone would die if they made it to adulthood. Now, life expectancy isn’t directly determined by a literal average of every age someone died at, but the results of the formula used are still strongly affected by a high infant mortality rate.

That’s not to say some classes within Rome didn’t have life expectancies closer to 28 even if they made it to adulthood. Or that other classes didn’t have life expectancies longer than 52 years.

The modern increase in life expectancy is certainly in part due to better medicine and elder care. It’s also corresponded with a global decrease in the infant mortality rate. Biologically we have the same bodies that people had in classical Rome, with the same proclivities and tendencies towards degrade and disease. Yes, we have better medicine, but they were certainly in better shape on average. Most of the advances that have really pushed the numbers of life expectancy come at the lower end, ensuring there are fewer tiny numbers included in the averages.

So when building an ancient or classical world, don’t look at life expectancies and base character ages and attitudes around those. It’s rare that numbers lie, but within some statistics hide some deceptions.


Don’t forget that FLASHATHON is NEXT WEEKEND! Saturday, October 27th. I’ve been largely quiet about it, because I’ve been…kinda preoccupied, but it is on, and I’m still hoping to make it a fun event. So mark your calendars, and check out my blog Writerly Words for more details.

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Genre Sales Statistics

Piechart from BillowycoatLast time, I spoke about the dominance of the romance genre in book sales accounting for 21% of the book market. Since that time, there have been some requests for statistics as to the sales figures for other genres. The total net revenue for books in the U.S. was around $6.31 billion. Of that, Science Fiction/Fantasy accounts for $495 million or 7.8 % of the market. Classic Literary Fiction is about $448 million or 7.1 % of the market. I was rather surprised to discover that Mystery, which is at $422 million, is only 6.7% of the market. And perhaps the newest and fastest growing genre – Graphic Novels make up a not insignificant 2% of overall book sales, bringing in $128 million and those figures are expected to increase in the years to come.

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