Researchers and students at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a website which allows users to calculate their risk of dying.
DeathRiskRankings.com uses public data from the United States and Europe to compare mortality risks by gender, age, cause of death and geographic region.
"Most Americans don't have a particularly good understanding of their own mortality risks, let alone ranking of their relevant risks," said David Gerard, a former engineering and public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon.
DeathRiskRankings.com can calculate a user's risk of dying within the next year or a longer period and rank the probable cause of death.
Paul Fischbeck, professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, said it can provide comparisons between, for example, a 54-year-old Pennsylvania woman or her counterpart in Britain.
"It turns out that the British woman has a 33-percent higher risk of breast cancer death," said Fischbeck, the site developer. "But for lung-throat cancer, the results are almost reversed, and the Pennsylvania woman has a 29-percent higher risk."
The risks of dying in the next year increase exponentially with age.
A 20-year-old US woman has a one in 2,000, or 0.05 percent, chance of dying in the next year.
By age 40, the risk is three times greater, by age 60, it is 16 times greater, and by age 80, it is 100 times greater, around one in 20, or five percent.
"At 80, the average US woman still has a 95 percent chance of making it to her 81st birthday," said Gerard, who is now an associate professor of economics at Lawrence University in Wisconsin.
Researchers said that when it comes to dying within the year, there are dramatic differences between comparative groups.
For every age group, men have a much higher annual death risk than women.
For 20 year old males, the risk is 2.5 to three times greater with accidents with homicides and suicides accounting for 80 percent of their death risks.
By age 50, however, these causes make up less than 10 percent of the risk for men and heart disease is number one, accounting for more than 30 percent of all deaths.
Women's cancer risks are actually higher than men's in their 30s and 40s.
For heart disease and cancer, US blacks have a much higher death risk than US whites with blacks in their 30s and 40s twice as likely to die within the year as their white counterparts.
Western Europeans have a greater risk of dying from breast and prostate cancer than people in the United States, but people in the United States have a greater chance of dying from lung cancer than people living in Western Europe.
Obesity-related death risks are much higher in the United States than in Europe.
Fischbeck and Gerard said they hope the website will contribute to the debate currently under way about health care in the United States.
"We believe that this tool, which allows anyone to assess their own risk of dying and to compare their risks with counterparts in the United States and Europe, could help inform the public and constructively engage them in the debate," Fischbeck said.