Dumb Ways to Die: Exploring the Darwin Awards

Around 1985, a community of people using what would come to be known as the Internet began documenting the stories of sensationally stupid deaths and sterilisations. With one less idiot to pass on their genes, the victims were said to be contributing to the long-term survival of our species. Thus, the Darwin Awards were born.

The first official Darwin Award was granted in 1994 and the creators have continued to recognise the hundreds of contributions to human evolution ever since. We’ve analysed the vast amount of data provided in these awards. Continue reading to learn more about where the clusters of stupidity lie on the chart of human development and geography.


With seven times more men awarded Darwin Awards than women, it seems that bad judgement has strong gender differences. In a 1999 meta-analysis, researchers explained that young men are far more likely to engage in risk-seeking behaviour. The gap persists but decreases with age, explaining why the number of awardees decreases with age for both genders.

However, when women were awarded Darwin Awards, they were three times as likely to be with other women than with a man. It appears that women are more likely to provoke stupidity among themselves than in an opposite-sex interaction.

The pre-frontal cortex – the ‘rational’ part of the brain – continues to develop into the mid-to-late twenties, which may explain why Darwin Awards are most commonly earned in one’s twenties. Risk-taking behaviour is moderated in the thirties, though it’s not completely suppressed.

People who are awarded a Darwin Award must have accidentally caused their demise as a result of poor judgement. People in the United States of America take the top spot, with more Darwin Awards than the rest of the top 30 countries combined.

Among the top three countries, automobile incidents are the most dangerous for someone with poor judgement. Canadians – narrowly missing out on a spot in third place – tend to win Darwin awards from falling deaths.

While there are common themes in the Darwin Awards, Pakistan is an outlier. The sole Darwin Award was given to a man who volunteered to be killed and resurrected by a beginner holy man.

We took a closer look at the USA to understand which states are home to the highest number of Darwin awardees shuffled off this mortal coil. California, New York, and Florida are among the top states – incidentally the most populous in the country.

Firearm-related deaths kill more than 13,000 people a year in the United States. In Illinois, firearms are the most likely way of earning a Darwin Award. One of the criteria for nomination is not killing anyone who may have produced viable offspring, so we can be glad that only these idiots have been prevented from contributing to the gene pool.

Although automobile-related accidents are the most common causes of dim-witted deaths in America overall, falling is a close second. California takes the top spot with 50 percent more Darwin Awards than Florida. Between bridges, selfie-taking tourists, and Yosemite Park, opportunities for falling to one’s death in California abound.

Other vehicles have also been implicated in Darwin deaths, including trains, boats, and snowmobiles. A large question mark remains around what happened on a jet ski in Nevada – one of America’s totally landlocked states.

With 3.3 million acres of mountains and an estimated 100,000 glaciers, avalanches are common enough that perishing in one isn’t all surprising. Earning a Darwin Award for it, however, is. Ordinarily, death by a natural disaster does not warrant the award, but this Alaskan ignored all warnings and destabilised the snow for the second time that day.

When we broke down the award categories by gender, it was interesting to find that incidents involving automobiles and falling were the top two for both men and women.

Our analysis found that 1 in 8 women are likely to earn a Darwin Award through a sex-related incident, making it the third most common award category for women.

Men tend be win their Darwin Awards from more ‘active’ activities such as explosions, firearms, thefts, and being crushed. Meanwhile, women tend to lose their lives in more ‘passive’ ways – impacts, drowning, and exposure.

In our final analysis, the top two countries go head-to-head. In terms of ratios, British women are 50 percent more likely to be awarded a Darwin Award than American women. American men, however, are almost three times as likely to lose their life in a way that earns them a Darwin Award.

When comparing British and American awardees by age, university-aged Americans are the most likely to receive a Darwin Award. For Britons, stupidity is evenly split between age 22 (just after university) and 28 – shortly after the end of a quarter-life crisis.

Ironically, the America’s Independence Day – when the risk of drunken stupidity and explosion leading to death would seem at its highest – is when Britonsare mostly likely to earn a Darwin Award. Americans, on the other hand, can’t help falling, getting in automobile accidents, or doing stupid things with firearms on February 3rd, the day after Groundhog Day.

While the numbers of self-castrations are nearly even for Brits and Yanks, the ratio of awardees means that the former are much more likely to lose their manhood.



Darwin Awards Methodology

  1. We manually collected data for every published Darwin Award (hereafter referred to as DA) from July 1920 until December 2017 (approx. 97 years).
  2. Next we removed unconfirmed DAs from the dataset to improve reliability of the data.
  3. We also removed “At Risk Survivors”, as they are not officially awarded DAs. This left us with only confirmed DAs and Living Darwin Awards (LDAs).

An LDA or a Living Darwin Award is where someone removes themselves from the gene pool by making themselves unable to reproduce - usually through castration. Data was not included for Darwin Awards pre-1900 including Historic Darwins collection. Some entries were omitted due to lack of data/clarity. If data was missing from an entry i.e. location, the data is excluded in analysis of that category. Where a DA includes more than one person, they have been added individually and if someone was described as being of a decade i.e. in their 40s, we allocated them the age of 40 to allow analysis by decade. The distribution of DAs over time does not reflect how many actually occurred, but how popular the concept was and how widely publicised. Therefore, we have not analysed time distribution. Some other explanatory notes to aid the understanding of the analysis carried out:

Methodology for the Interactive Darwin Awards Quiz Users enter sex to filter which data set they will use. Sex was selected as the primary filter, as this is where the greatest discrepancy lies, amongst the data between sex, rather than age etc. The second filter is location. Countries within each continent have been grouped together. We do not have an age filter, because after our analysis, we discovered that certain ages are more likely to receive a Darwin Award however, we also found that this has very little correlation between the type of Darwin Award achieved.

Permission To Use This Content

The images and results of this research study can be used by anyone interested in the material. Dr Felix gives full permission for any websites to use these images; however, in return we request that you properly cite the original source by linking to this page. Where possible please also credit our brand name “Dr Felix” by linking to home page www.drfelix.co.uk as the author of the original works so our team is properly attributed for compiling and sharing this content.  


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