Your cause of death depends to a large extent on when you do it and where. If you are in the US and between the age of 10 and 24 when you die, there is a very good chance (over 70%) that you will die of an unintentional accident, suicide or homicide – so be careful and stop worrying about cancer!
It’s a similar story in the UK, I’ve been browsing the figures from the Office of National Statistics – if you are between the ages of 20 and 34, suicide and injury/poisoning of indeterminable intent (I think that means probable suicide), accidental poisoning (drug over-dose) and road accidents are the three most common causes of death in both men and women.
In childhood, (5-19) road traffic accidents are the commonest cause of death for boys. Little girls are more cautious — I knew that.
Not until the age of 50 will suicide cease to be the commonest cause of death for men. Shocking in itself this is a huge tribute to the power of vaccination, antibiotics and sewers.
What about the other end of the spectrum – what are our chances of surviving birth? In the US infant mortality was 6.15/1000 live births in 2010, worryingly it is increasing and I don’t know why but obesity, diabetes, pregnancies in older women and in much younger women may be contributing.
In the UK infant mortality is at an all-time low of 4/1000 live births but we can probably expect this to rise as it has in the States.
The lowest infant mortality is in mothers between the ages of 30 and 34, the highest in those under 20 (5.5/1000 in UK in 2012).
The UN Population Division figures tell us that if you live in Afghanistan 135.95 babies in every 1000 die within a year of birth, that’s 13.5 in every 100 or more than 1 in 10!
Without modern medical care how many mothers would die in childbirth? Wikipedia gives us an idea — in Dublin between 1785 and 1849 the figure was about 1 in 100 or (for comparison) 1000 in 100,000. In some institutions the maternal death rate on occasions reached 40%. It has gradually improved with advances in care; in the US in 2008 it was 14 in 100,000 but don’t be complacent the trend is again upwards.
1 in 100 is about the level of maternal deaths that we find today in Somalia – not as good as our sheep standing outside in the rain (but then they do have the benefit of some modern medical care and good nutrition).
In Sub-Saharan Africa the lifetime risk of maternal death from childbirth is about 1: 16, one in every sixteen women will die as a result of the complications of having a baby. In the developed world the figure is 1 in 2800.
I commend you to go look at your national statistics and think about what they mean – I haven’t even touched on the lifestyle, cultural or political implications – you can do that for yourselves.