Uncommon causes of death – modern day problems

Reading studies into the causes of death is possibly a morbid habit but it does have a kind of fascination. If you read about causes of death today in wealthy countries, you will find that accidents and suicides take most of the under 40 year old deaths but then cancers and other neoplasms become more common the higher up the mortality table one advances.

It was not always so. In the year 1665, according to a summary of parish records in London, the most frequent cause of death was the plague. Out of 97,000 burials in that year, over 68,000 were due to the plague. Cancer took only 56 people out of the 97,000. In those days, cancer was a very rare disease indeed.

That is mainly because the plague took most people before they had time to develop cancer. The plague swept Europe in waves and some years were particularly ghastly. But even in such a year as 1665, death managed to take a few in very innovative ways.  For example, 23 people died from “Frighted”. 397 died from “The Rising of the Lights” and 86 died of “The King’s Evill”. 5 died from “Distracted” and 14 from “Lethargy”.

1545 people died from old age. That is, around 1.5% of deaths were due to old age. I’m guessing that pensions, saving for retirement, adequacy and consumer protection laws in the field of superannuation were not high on the worry list of the citizens of London in the year 1665.