Magazine article Tikkun

Seventy-Five as the New Forty-Five

Magazine article Tikkun

Seventy-Five as the New Forty-Five

Article excerpt

THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD ARE LIVING LONGER. BABY boomers are feeling younger and healthier than their parents did at the same age. At the beginning of the twentieth century, life expectancy was fifty. Now it's close to eighty. Thirty years added to life expectancy in just one century. Science and lifestyle changes have permitted the greatest extension of life in human history.

Is this all good news? What if, as expected, regenerative science and lifestyle improvements lead to another twenty-plus-year extension of life expectancy in the twenty-first century?

Even as people are living longer, women are having fewer babies, in many countries below the replacement rate (about two children per woman). For the first time in human history, there will be more people over the age of sixty than under the age of fifteen. What are the consequences of this historically unique "age shift" of human populations?

Culturally, those in the developed nations have been accustomed to "retiring" by age sixty (France) or sixty-five (United States). The dictionary tells us that "retirement" means "withdrawal" from work or "taking out of circulation." If life expectancy extends to one hundred, should society want those in their sixties to withdraw and be "out of circulation"?

Public and private pension and health systems are built on the assumption that people retire in their sixties and are given income support and health insurance. What if most people live into their nineties?

Alzheimer's now afflicts one out of two people over the age of eighty-five. If that doesn't change, people may live to one hundred, but half of that population above eighty-five will have Alzheimer's and the other half will be taking care of them. While life expectancy maybe extended to one hundred years, will people's brains be there?

In developing nations, longer life expectancies coupled with greater-than-replacement fertility rates mean larger populations and potentially greater poverty. Will the income inequality between richer and poorer nations grow, with implications for poverty reduction, migration, and global security?

Imagine if present demographic trends continue. The population of Japan will decline from 120 million today to 90 million in forty years. The population of Russia may fall at even a faster rate. The populations of Germany, Italy, and other European nations are falling today. Iran's fertility has already dropped below replacement rate. China's population will peak in 2030 and fall as the consequences of the One Child Policy take hold. The populations in high-fertility, Catholic Latin America will continue to grow, and those of sub-Saharan Africa will grow as the scourges of malaria, smallpox, and HIV/AIDS are arrested. …

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