It is now commonplace to hear the media and people in general speak about the increase in life expectancy that has occurred in recent times. The mortality rate, or crude death rate, is the number of deaths per population over a given period of time and is typically expressed in deaths per 1,000. It is an average figure that is often used as a proxy for the overall health of a population.

Studies on death rates for various groups in society are of interest to medical doctors and their patients, legislators and life insurance companies.

In general, developed countries show a relatively lower mortality rate than developing countries. This is not always the case.

South Africa ranks number 1 on the Death Rate Country Comparison table with 17.23 deaths per 1,000 of population and Russia ranks 2 with a death rate of 16.03.

Germany ranks 38 with 11.04; The UK ranks 60 with 9.33 and Ireland ranks 153 with 6.38. Surprisingly, Iraq ranks 196 with a death rate of just 4.73.

Germany with an aging population has a relatively high mortality rate despite being a highly developed country.

Differences in mortality rates are rarely due to one single factor alone. The death rate is influenced by many factors.

Gender – mortality rate for females are lower at all ages than those of men and on average women will live longer than men.

Marital status – Married people have lower mortality that those who never married are divorced or widowed.

Socio-economic factors – Mortality rates worsen as socio-economic status declines, even within quite small populations.

Education – although not generally appreciated, there is evidence that education helps to directly improve mortality irrespective of socio-economic conditions.

Lifestyle – Those who smoke, eat an unhealthy diet, are obese, take inadequate exercise, drink excessive alcohol or participate in hazardous sports or other risky behaviour have higher mortality rates than those who do not.

Medical technology – the use of preventative pharmaceuticals such as statins, to reduce blood cholesterol, has significantly contributed to lowering mortality rates for certain diseases.