The ultimate limit to being human is the boundary between life and death. This measure has enormously expanded the borders in recent centuries. A child born in England or Wales in 1841 was on average only 41 years old. Today, that number has doubled to just over 80.

Most of this tremendous progress is due to huge advances in health, especially in preventing and curing communicable diseases. But while dozens of once-deadly diseases have stopped being mass murderers, other causes of death have become more common over time.

Since the turn of the 21st century, progress in preventing the spread of infection and parasitic diseases around the world has led to three million deaths per year. It was reported that another million deaths were caused by newborns. However, these improvements were completely offset by the increase in deaths from cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In addition, every year, two million people die from cancer.

What drives mortality and illness today?

Not only do these diseases cause mortality, but they can also cause people who suffer from illness or disability for years, or even their entire lives, to be unable to live comfortably or work effectively. Overall, the world's population lost 2.7 billion years of health in 2016 due to illness and other illnesses, according to the World Health Organization. While premature death makes a significant contribution to this number, musculoskeletal and sensory disorders account for every thirteenth of those lost "healthy" years.

180 years of changing mortality in England and Wales

The Human Mortality Database contains comprehensive records of births and deaths that span centuries of human society. The data tells of steady progress interrupted by major tragedies and highlights the tremendous advances in modern healthcare.

Here we have recorded the mortality rates in England and Wales since 1841 by age and gender.

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The two world wars leave dark scars and illustrate the sky-high mortality rate of men in times of intense fighting. In 1918, 55 out of 1,000 21-year-old men died in England and Wales. This is the same mortality rate that 80-year-old men face today.

However, the most striking long-term shift is the progress made in the prevention and cure of post-war communicable diseases, the effects of which have been felt particularly in young adults. Between 1946 and 1960, mortality rates for people in their twenties fell by more than half, faster than any other time in the twentieth century.

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