We are the safest generation, with the longest lifespan expectancy than any of the generations before us. Somehow at the same time we are the most scared crowd in our history. While globalization is great for understanding the world better, learning about different cultures, connecting research and knowledge it does leave a big mark on our emotions. While distant disasters and tragedies cannot touch us physically they do make a big emotional impact on us. Our good old brain is hardwired to keep us away from danger and maintain the unit alive. The way it registers threat has not changed much for thousands of years, while the world around us had a major re-design during the past century. The amount of information that is thrown at us is on constant increase and our managing unit does a lot of screening behind the scenes without us knowing. Unfortunately for us, statistics file is not always attached and we very often sort things by qualitative analysis (a yes or no) other than quantitative (if yes, how much?). Just to give you an example, ask yourself:
- Is flying dangerous? (a qualitative question)
- Is driving dangerous? (a qualitative question)
- If any of the answers is yes, how dangerous? (a quantitative question)
I am a hopeless optimist but in general I would be tempted to say yes, to an extend, to both. My brain when looking for a quick answer can find examples of fatal plane crashed seen on TV and plenty of car accidents. When coming to the third question I looked for some good stats – the quantitative answer – and they are impressive. In USA in 2008 the death toll for car related accidents was 34,017 (19,220 of drivers, 7,397 passengers and 4,378 pedestrians). For air travel: 0. We are looking at the population of San Marino being wiped off the planet Earth, comparing to… no one. Still a lot of people feel anxious when boarding a plane when they did not think twice about driving their car to get to the airport.
World around is changing at an unbelievable pace and unfortunately we cannot fully rely on our subconscious analyzing system anymore. While it works very well for some automatic decisions, we need to make sure we are not accumulating more and more stress on top of our daily challenges. We should take some time off every now and again and analyse our fears and intuitive choices.
So here are some numbers to cheer you up on that short February day 🙂
In the last 150 years our life expectancy has doubled. A baby born in 1900 did not expect to live beyond 50. A Japanese woman now is expected to celebrate her 87th birthday. Life expectancy only one century ago was not far away from a life expectancy of a hunter-gatherer 3 millenia back. This recent shift is definitely not due to genetic evolution but an unbelievable progress in medicine. We are less likely than ever to be in the middle of a war, we are vaccinated against a lot of lethal viruses, we have antibiotics at hand to helps us battle with bacterial infections. The combination of skills, knowledge and medicine achieved incredible reduction in infant mortality: in the 1840s around 15% of babies died before their first birthday compared with 0.4% in 2011 (data for UK).
When you look at the life expectancy list compiled by CIA (here) you will see a massive gap between high and low-income countries. While low income countries are still in a battle with contagious disease (HIV just being one of them), the high income countries are constantly improving on diagnosis and treatment of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. When you look at the WHO report on the top 10 causes of death (here) you still see lung cancer in the 5th place, which means there is still a massive space for improvement which is really in individual hands.
Women live longer than men all around the world. The gap is much larger in high-income countries (more than six years) than in low-income countries (around three years).
You might think: thanks for making me look at the reasons why people die! But is there a better news than realizing we are the safest people who have walked our planet? We have the highest life expectancy ever with constant improvements on the horizon. There is still plenty to do, but at least even from that WHO report we can clearly see where changes have to be made. That recent shift shows as well that even though our genes give us a certain frame, we definitely have a say in how we fill it in.
So let’s sit back, take a deep breath. If you are not cold nor hungry, you have a roof over your head and no army taking over your country, be grateful. We are very lucky to be here, now.