25
Mar
10

if they live into the 22nd century, what then?

I’ve mentioned before that the chance of children born now have a 50/50 chance of living to 100. Prof. James Vaupel of Duke U puts it this way:

“It is possible, if we continue to make progress in reducing mortality, that most children born since the year 2000 will live to see their 100th birthday — in the 22nd century,” Vaupel said. If gains in life expectancy continue to be made at the same pace as over the past two centuries, more than half of the children alive today in the developed world may see 100 candles on their birthday cake.

In my 40 years in public health the drive I saw in health institutions was to work relentlessly toward reduced mortality and greater longevity. That was without question our measure of success. I never heard anyone ask if there were any unintended consequences to all this effort or anything we might need to prepare for.

Fortunately Dr. Vaupel seems to signal a change.

This leads to an interesting set of policy questions, said Vaupel. What will these dramatically longer lifespans mean for social services, health care and the economy? Can the aging process be slowed down or delayed still further? And why do women continue to outlive men – outnumbering them 6 to 1 at age 100?

It also may be time to rethink how we structure our lives, Vaupel said. “If young people realize they might live past 100 and be in good shape to 90 or 95, it might make more sense to mix education, work and child-rearing across more years of life instead of devoting the first two decades exclusively to education, the next three or four decades to career and parenting, and the last four solely to leisure.”

One way to change life trajectories would be to allow younger people to work fewer hours, in exchange for staying in the workforce to a later age. “The 20th century was a century of the redistribution of wealth; the 21st century will probably be a century of the redistribution of work,” Vaupel said.

Good thinking!

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