After studying New York Times obits between 1942 and 2012, Stephen G. Bloom discovered all sorts of facts, like the male skew depicted in the chart above. But who gets an obit is still impossible to predict:
Like much of the news, obits are a black box when it comes to who gets in and who doesn’t. There are luminaries who must get in. The other 40 percent are up for grabs. The nature of news, of course, is that “all the news that’s fit to print” changes every day. Some days there is certainly more news that’s fit than others—and the newshole seldom changes to accommodate this ebb and flow. A front-page story one day gets shoved inside another day, and the same principle applies to obits.