The When and How of Death

The last time you purchased insurance or made a contribution to your RRSP, did you think about how long you might live? According to recent statistics, Canadian men live just over 78 years on average, while women live about 83 years. Men are expected to spend 88.8% (68.3 years) of their life in good health, compared to 86.3% (70.8 years) for women.

Most people know that how long we can expect to live depends heavily on genetics, weight, smoking status, lifestyle choices and luck, but you may be surprised to know that where you live can also be a contributing factor. The old notion that living far away from the stress and dangers of a big city will help you live longer is inaccurate. With a large percentage of their populations living in cities with quick access to emergency medical care, British Columbia and Ontario had the highest average life expectancies at 81.2 years old and 81 years old, respectively. Alberta and Quebec were a close second at just over 80 years.

In the other provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest life expectancy at 78.3 years old. In Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the average lifespan is just short of 80 years.

Canada’s three northern territories have the lowest life expectancy. People in Nunavut usually die the youngest at an average of 72 years old. In the Yukon, people reach 77 years old on average and in the Northwest Territories, residents live to about 78 years old.

So now that you know how long you can expect to live, let’s look at how you might die.

The most common causes of death in Canada are heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and “accidental injury,” a broad category that includes a lot of horribly unlucky stuff that just happens. Heart disease will take 1 in 5 of us. Your odds of death from cancer are 1 in 7 followed by stroke at 1 in 23. Your odds of death by injury (all injury types combined) are only about 1 in 36. This explains why life insurance costs several times more than accidental death insurance.

Here are a few interesting facts about death that could come in handy the next time you are struggling for an interesting topic of discussion at an old relative’s birthday party:

  • The likelihood you’ll be killed by lightning is approximately 1 in 2,650,000 —your odds of winning a Lotto 649 jackpot are just under 1 in 14,000,000!
  • While being interviewed by Dick Cavett, publisher Jerome Rodale was bragging that he was so healthy that he’d live to be 100 when he slumped over and died from a heart attack. The show was never aired.
  • Seven breeds of dogs account for 98% of all fatal dog attacks. In order, they are: Pitbull, German Shepherd, Chow, Malamute, Husky, Wolf hybrids and the Akita. Your odds of dying in any given year from a dog attack: 1 in 10,876,179.
  • The most expensive funeral in history was for Alexander the Great. In today’s dollars, it would cost over $600 million. Average cost of a funeral in Canada is approximately $7,000.
  • A few months before he died in a car accident, James Dean starred in a driver safety commercial in which he stated, “drive safely; the life you save could be mine.” The odds of dying in a car accident are approximately 1 in 6,500.
  • Worried about dying in a plane crash? You have the same odds that you will die from the collision of an asteroid hitting the earth in the next one hundred years: 1 in 500,000.
  • Your lifetime odds of death by suicide are approximately 1 in 121, slightly better than your odds of death from falling down.
  • In ancient Japan, it was thought that somewhere on a cat’s tail was a single hair that could restore the life of a dying person. Relatives would bring a cat to the dying so they could pluck a hair and try their luck. My guess is that this tradition became less popular when people realized that angry cats were actually accelerating the deaths of some unlucky people.
  • The ideal moment for being cryogenically frozen is within 10 minutes before death.
  • It’s a myth that more people commit suicide during the holidays.
  • It’s impossible to kill yourself by holding your breath. Go ahead, give it a try…I DARE you.




  1. Interesting food for thought. I especially liked the anecdote about the Japanese and the cat’s tail.

  2. “Seven breeds of dogs account for 98% of all fatal dog attacks. In order, they are: Pitbull,…” Yet the Ontario Legislature may well pass a private member’s bill (sponsored by MPPs from all three parties) to revoke the ban on pitbulls in Ontario. Given that there has been mandatory sterilization of pitbulls since 2005 and a ban in their importation since then, we are perhaps 5 years away from having none of them in the province … unless the Legislature lifts the ban. The bill passed second reading (approval in principle) on a recorded vote.

  3. I especially like the 10 minutes pre-death sweet spot for cryogenic intervention. Could the right to die debate one day be sidetracked by cryonic preservation arguments? From lethal injection to stasis intervention.
    For anyone intrigued, check out this page from Alcor on cryonic procedures. Apparently, this group can intervene at the moment of cardiac failure, but keep other cells alive by artificial circulation of oxygenated fluid. Sounds good up to the point your brain ends up in a cooler en route to Scottsdale.
    Admittedly, Arizona is not the immediate stand-out when it comes to locations where you will expect indefinite assurance of sub-zero temperatures. But then again, it may beat plucking cats.

  4. “You have the same odds that you will die from the collision of an asteroid hitting the earth in the next one hundred years: 1 in 500,000.”

    This one defies common sense – thousands of people have died in plane crashes and I’m not aware of anyone anywhere ever being hit by an asteroid. How can the odds possibly be the same?

  5. I imagine that the asteroid statistic (besides being doubtless a wild guess) gets its validity from the small population of Earths and asteroids, compared to the large population of the world and of air travellers. The chances of a person dying in a plane crash has to include the chances of any particular person flying at all and the chances that any time the person flies, the plane will crash (fatally to the person, which is not every time). That is probably below 1 in 500,000 for all the people in the world. One chance in 500,000 strikes me as high even for those people who fly, ignoring those who do not get to do so. There are thousands of flights a day in North America alone, and if each flight averages 40 people (somebody must know that), that would quickly come to 500,000 people (a day, even?) – and planes don’t crash every month (thank goodness).

    The statement of the odds presumably is spread over a lifetime, not in any year i.e. you will die, and your chances of dying of this cause is 1 in 500,000. I would have thought, given the infrequency of crashes and the frequency of flying, that that figure is high too. However, about 250,000 people die in Canada each year. So if one person in Canada died in a plane crash every other year, that would give us the stated risk. That sounds less wild – indeed that starts to sound understated…

    As for the asteroid: There are a few large craters in the world that are said to be the results of large meteorites – we could reclassify them as asteroids … Even with that, there have been few detected ‘asteroid’ collisions in the past 4 billion years. One would need (by my late night calculations) 8000 asteroid collisions, each fatal to one person, in that period to constitute the stated risk. If one rephrased it to the chances of being hit by something from space – meteorite, satellite bits… – that may be closer to the stated stat.

    So: are any of the other risks properly stated either? Hmmm… how to undermine an interesting note!

  6. Thanks John. I did my best to make sure all these stats are legit.
    The asteroid collision probability is annual and the information is posted on the NASA website. If you are interested, go to

    Thanks for the great comments!

  7. Thanks for the comments. The statement about an asteriod strike is an annual risk and comes from the NASA website. What I found interesting was that less than 10 years ago, many scientists predicted odds of 1 in 250,000, so I guess we can all sleep better at night.
    If you are interested, your can