Top 10 Causes of Death for Americans Ages 20 to 24

The causes of death among people ages 20 to 24 in the United States are either largely preventable or congenital (present at birth). Regardless, far too many young people die prematurely. These are the top causes of death for people in the ages where they are in college or entering the workforce. See how each cause may be prevented.



Two cars involved in a car accident

Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images 

According to 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, accidents account for 45% of deaths among people in the 20 to 24 age group. Motor vehicle accidents alone account for the majority of accidental injury deaths among young adults.

The good news is that the motor vehicle death rate has been going down in recent years as cars have become safer. To protect yourself, wear your seat belt, drive defensively and avoid risky behaviors that may lead to accidents.



Suicide accounts for 18% of deaths among people of this age group. Sadly, most people who commit suicide feel like it is their only way out of a helpless feeling situation.

However, there are many resources for people with suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing depression or other mental health issues, seek help. With talk therapy and medications, you can find that life is worth living. In fact, most people who attempt suicide say they regret it.

Interviews with 29 people who survived a suicide attempt by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge say they regretted the decision the moment they jumped.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) right away. This free hotline is available 24 hours a day.



Fifteen percent of deaths among people age 15 to 24 are due to homicide. In 2017, three quarters of all homicides against people of all age groups in the U.S. were committed with firearms, and gun violence is more common in urban and poor communities.

Unfortunately, you cannot necessarily control where you live or what other people do. However, you can do your best to protect yourself by avoiding dangerous and confrontational situations and seeking help for domestic violence.



Cancer deaths account for 4 percent of deaths among the 20 to 24 age group. Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent cancer, and this percentage includes many childhood cancers that are not preventable.​


Heart Disease

Close to 3% of people who die when they are 20 to 24 die of heart disease. Exercise and a healthy diet can help to prevent and reverse heart disease, however, many young people who die of heart disease were born with it.


Congenital Conditions

Congenital illnesses, some inherited from parents, such as cystic fibrosis or maternally-transmitted HIV, account for a little less than 1% of deaths among this age group.


Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is the cause for a little under 1% of deaths in this age group. Although advances in treatment allow people with diabetes mellitus to live longer lives, the chronic disease is still associated with a number of complications.

People with diabetes have increased risk of having heart attacks as well as strokes. While there is no cure, a good diet, exercise, and medication can help people manage diabetes mellitus.


Pregnancy and Childbirth

It may come as a surprise that pregnancy and childbirth are also among the leading causes of mortality for young women aged 20-24, but there are certain risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth. About 0.7% of deaths among those aged 20-24 happen during pregnancy or during/after childbirth.


Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease

Chronic lower respiratory disease accounts for 0.6% of deaths in this age group. Reduce your risk by not smoking or quitting smoking.


Flu and Pneumonia

You may not think that the flu or pneumonia is very dangerous if you are in your teens or early twenties, but 0.6% of deaths in the 20 to 24 age group are attributable to flu and pneumonia.

Get a flu vaccine every year and wash your hands regularly. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about extra precautions to take if you have a compromised immune system due to illness or other reasons.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What type of cancers do young adults get?

    The most common types of cancer for people aged 20-39 include:

    • Breast cancer
    • Lymphomas (non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin)
    • Melanoma
    • Sarcomas (cancers of connective tissues like muscles and bones)
    • Cancers of the cervix and ovary
    • Thyroid cancer
    • Testicular cancer
    • Colorectal cancer
    • Brain and spinal cord tumors
  • What are the leading causes of death for teenagers?

    For teens aged 15 to 19, the leading causes of death are accidents, suicide, and homicide.

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Article Sources
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  1. Heron M. Deaths: Leading causes for 2017. In: National Vital Statistics Reports. 2019;68(6):1-77.

  2. National Safety Council. Car crash deaths and rates. Updated 2018.

  3. Gramlich J. What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S.. In: Pew Research Center. Updated August 16, 2019.

  4. World Health Organization. Diabetes. Updated October 30, 2018.

  5. American Cancer Society. Types of cancers that develop in young adults. Updated October 24, 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adolescent health. Updated June 11, 2021.