2014 Medicare and Social Security Trustees' Reports
What Makes a Good Retirement?

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


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

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.

Bia Redko...
Is it this story?

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.

Simian Virus 40 in polio vaccines in mid-20th century (google it; it's a well-established fact, corroborated by the National Institutes of Health website) have probably cut short some lives through various cancers; the birth control pill undoubtedly made breast cancer epidemic. Gains are improved infant and maternal mortality numbers and the fact that most men do not go to war (WWI and WWII were big killers). Smoking is still a huge killer with a decades-long latency, causing 30-odd types of cancer. Worldwide, smoking is a form of tolerated genocide that is expected to kill more people than any war in history. Still, if we manage to avoid these pitfalls, our increased sanitation, shelter and diet are the factors that contribute most to our longevity, along with enough leisure time to avoid exhaustion, unlike medieval serfs who died of exposure, starvation and malnutrition. Improved medical care (in some areas only) contributes somewhat, but not as much as better sanitation, more space, better food and enough rest.

yes we are all being conned by our governments who tell us we are living longer , the statistics they are using are flawed ,as before the days of health and safety many people died at work at an early age due to accidents etc. in hazardous employments ( miners etc.) . these statistics along with the high child deaths of many years ago when calculating the average life expectancy now makes it look as though we are now living longer, false !!! have a look in any old graveyard at the recorded ages on headstones and you will see, 70s,80s and even 90s not uncommon even in the late 1800s.

Yeah it's one big con by the government - people aren't living any longer at all. My grandad was 91 and my grandma was 88 but my dad was 78 and my mum was 73, doesn't make sense. My grandma never worked and my grandad didn't have a stressful job but today we have stressful jobs and we're dying younger.

We should all retire at 60, our pensions in the U.K. are one of the lowest so I don't understand this government.

I have worked all my life and I am now nearly 62 - it stinks!!!!!!

Fun fact:
Please work into ur 70s I promise you'll live longer

All mentioned both positive and negative are true.. Vaccination, developed countries, healthy lifestyle, access to healthcare contributes to a longer life and polution, stress, poverty, poor quality standard of living for under developed countries contributes to a shorter lifespan.
Even if you are in a fully developed country with access to everything but you keep on taking drugs with a lot of vices and no excercise chances are you can’t maximise your lifespan. on the otherway around even if you are in poverty but you are trying all your effort to be healthy by not consuming drugs, having enough sleep, excercise etc etc then you can maximise your lifespan.
There is alot of factor in ones life
Genes, location, job, family environment, relationship, food etcetc and this is hard for a statistician to get an accurate data.
Accurate data may only be valid for a particular same scenario with a little variation as a purpose of comparison but not whole life of a human because of too much factors involved.
In historical times humans can only lived up to 50 but now it is higher and we can combat the deseases that we cant cure before. It is also true that new desease are being discovered and occurs at an early stage because of the environment and food that we eat. It is hard to make a general conclusion but I know for a fact that scientist and modern science has contributed a lot to increase and lenghten the lifespan of humans. We ourselves should do our part by following things that has been proven to be effective to increase lifespan. This debate has been fueled by wrong information because of other issue such as retirement age and insurance thus confusing us on the real issue.

Absolute poppycock put about by a corrupt establishment to make you work longer pay more taxes and starving the NHS of resources. The banking crash caused by corruption in 2008 was propped up with our taxes and now the banks have paid it back - where is it? and why still ongoing austerity? British government, establishment - one of the most corrupt in the world, cleverly done with stealth and deceit........

None of you are aware that all the worlds media is now owned and run by the same group of people. We are dying younger and we are being lied to about it. Do some research. People talk of corruption but never exactly who is behind it. Ask yourself who owns it all.

Very wise words. I carry out a lot of ancestral research and I can tell you that as long as someone reached adulthood they lived just as long as they do now. Governments in the west are deliberately distorting the statistics to give the impression that "we are all living longer". No we are not! The simple explanation is that it is comparatively rare for children to die before adulthood or for mothers to die during childbirth. Many of my ancestors even in the 17th century lived beyond 80, 90 and 100. My father lived to 103 (1912-1915) and his father to 101 (1882-1983) so longevity is nothing new but is primarily dependent on genetics. "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." (Psalm 90:10, AV) I am not a Christian but this verse reflects traditional thinking and experience.

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