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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

No, Humans are NOT Living Longer than in the Past

Hardly a day goes when when I don't read that we humans are living longer than ever before. By many years.

“...old age now mostly means we have more years on the clock than did our forbearers. A lot more.” (Next Avenue)
“There’s no doubt that we’re living longer than previous generations.” (Time magazine)
“People in developed nations are living in good health as much as a decade longer than their parents did. (Science Daily)

But the truth is, we are not living longer or, anyway, not by much and certainly not by a decade. The people who write this stuff are plain wrong.

Some cite the fact that there are billions more old people in the world than there were in the past but that's just because there are billions more people of every age on the planet nowadays. (You, perhaps, have heard of the population explosion even if those reporters have not.)

The main reason for these false assertions is a misreading of what “life expectancy” means and how it is measured.

Until the mid-20th century, large numbers of babies died in infancy and toddlerhood. So when you measure life expectancy from birth, including those babies in the average, it looks like life expectancy in your grandparents' – even parents' – day was only 45 or 50 years.

But if you measure life expectancy from, say age five, our parents and grandparents commonly lived into their sixties and beyond, as you and I expect to do. Here is some additional explanation from research scientist, Howard Friedman:

”The correct evaluation involves life expectancy at age 65, not at birth! The truth, surprising to many, is that the average increase in life expectancy for a 65-year-old is only about three or so years.

“The increase is even smaller for retirements at ages beyond 65. And the social security retirement age is already being raised by two years (to 67)...

“Reductions in infant and child mortality have been dramatic during the 20th century, but 65-year-olds today are not strikingly healthier or longer-living than 65-year-olds of the previous generation or two.

“If life were being extended for decades there would be lots of 115-year-old Americans running around, but there aren't any at all.

It is important that you understand when life expectancy is being wrongly reported because it affects a variety of public policy proposals.

One example: every election cycle, large numbers of political candidates, usually of a certain partisan stripe, try to tell voters that Social Security is unsustainable because millions of people are living decades longer than previous generations. Not true.

There are good reasons to tweak Social Security, but decrepit centenarians sucking up unplanned-for decades of benefits is not one of them.

Dr. Friedman goes on:

”...the hard truth is that most 65-year-olds today will not be collecting those extra Social Security checks and enjoying an additional dozen or more of the golden years. “On average, they'll live only a bit longer than their parents. Increased longevity is not a valid argument for changing Social Security payouts; it's phony.”

With Leslie R. Martin, Howard S. Friedman is the author The Longevity Project, the 2011 report of an eight-decade study of 1500 Californians analyzing what behavior and character traits were common to those who lived a long time.

It is a fascinating book written with laymen in mind with some surprising conclusions that contradict conventional wisdom. It is writing with laymen in mind and I highly recommend it.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carl Hansen: Ice Cream, Noah and My Fear of Water


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Essentially, it is genetics that determines how long we live with advances in medicine and nutrition adding just a few years to the equation. At the same time there are an equal number of things that will shorten our lives like air pollution, saturated fats and reality television. The Bible gives us Threescore years and 10 and anything beyond that I consider overtime pay.

When I was born 89 years ago I had 3 great grandmothers and one great grandfather still living. Two of them lived into their 80's. Luckily, I must have inherited their genes.

On the other hand, my mother was only 67 when she died and my father was about 73.

The same death age probably is as true two generations ago as it is now.

I do think that modern medicine is allowing more people to live longer than they would have a generation ago and that may skew the statistics.

Ha, more lies, damn lies, and statistics, they can make whatever they like out of them. I'm going with genetics. The women in my family have lived to 90 plus or minus. Still have an aunt who is 90. It's been consistent the last three generations, unless a bus gets someone. I'm more concerned about whether or not I'm going to like lasting that long. So far so good with some speed bumps.

At 103 Mom died this March.
Her G Grand Mom died at 99...
My PLAN is to go a tad or just
a few minutes after Mom!

I've not seen a doctor in about 3 years. Eat Vegan only.

I am healthy & 83 in 1 month.

So many people misunderstand and misuse statistics. Thanks for calling out the doomsayers on this one. My pet peeve is all the alarmists who report that various diseases are on the rise -- without taking into account the burgeoning population, improving diagnostics, and often, changing definitions of the diseases.

I'm still putting a lot of credence in the telomere theory, while acknowledging the value of healthy eating and exercise (though neither of which I practice as well as I should). I've been looking closely at the ages in our regional obituaries in the Sunday paper, and I've noticed that the they seem to average around 70-something, though there are a lot of 90+ these days.

I really loved the knowledge imparted in your column today and then the reasoning behind it. What you have shared evokes wonderful comments which I also enjoy reading! Thanks!

It's absolutely true that we read over and over that humans are living a lot longer than they used to. And often from academics and others who should understand demographics better than they seem to.

Certainly, we've made great advances in reducing death in childbirth and in development of vaccines for childhood diseases, such as whooping cough.

An interesting way to think about demographics is to consider this question: At what age is a person least likely to die?

It turns out in the developed countries that it's about 11 or 12. At that age, children have survived being born and have had their vaccinations.

And they have not yet entered the risky teen-age years, often involving drinking, use of drugs, driving, perhaps use of use of guns and other dangerous activities.

Dear Ronni

I am on the USA and I would like to give a 90 years old friend a book about the life philosophy of a Rabbi that you recommended last march and I forgot the title. Could you kindly send the name again? Regards
Beatriz

You're right, the increase in life expectancy is largely due to better infant mortality rates. Still and all, I'm 65 years old, and I'm glad to know that my life expectancy is 3 years longer -- or about 20% longer -- than my parents. Also, due to modern medicine, older people live more mobile and less painful lives than our parents. So while your point is well taken, don't just look on the dark side -- there's a bright side as well.

this reconfirms what i have always held to be true. in my readings, i nearly always note the death age of peoples in the long ago, and have seen the ages to be not significantly unlike those from modern times. what has changed, of course, is the rate of infant mortality, and the plagues of common diseases now extinct or nearly so. (a pox on the anti-vaxers)

If you look at the social insurance stats, if you made it to 65 in 1960 for e.g. today you only live 3 or 4 years longer, not a huge increase considering there were no treatments for major things like heart disease back then!!

It's convenient to say we live much longer to save on pensions but I don't think boomer women are living as long as their mothers. Of my 5 female classmates in college, 3 died of cancer before age 55, their mothers are all 85+ and still living. I think the long work hours and stress of work and commuting has shortened women's lives.

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