THE DEMOGRAPHIC FATE OF intelligent SPECIES: How would a much older society look like?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How would a much older society look like?

Simple, I'll still be a glamorous gal
From the Atlantic Monthly, "What happens when we all live to 100?"

A long article with many interesting nuggets, covering many aspects of an aging society:

- How life expectancy has risen so much over the last century and how that may continue into the near future:

"The typical person was fortunate to reach 40...Beginning in the 19th century, that slowly changed. Since 1840, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months with each passing year. In 1840, life expectancy at birth in Sweden, a much-studied nation owing to its record-keeping, was 45 years for women; today it’s 83 years. The United States displays roughly the same trend. When the 20th century began, life expectancy at birth in America was 47 years; now newborns are expected to live 79 years. If about three months continue to be added with each passing year, by the middle of this century, American life expectancy at birth will be 88 years. By the end of the century, it will be 100 years."
...
"This isn’t a prediction about the future of the United States, but rather a description of Japan right now. The Land of the Rising Sun is the world’s grayest nation. Already the median age is 45 (in the U.S., by comparison, it is 37), and it will jump to 55 by 2040. As Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, has noted, median age in the retirement haven of Palm Springs, California, is currently 52 years. Japan is on its way to becoming an entire nation of Palm Springs residents."
...
"In a 2009 study, Olshansky projected future demographics under the “hit a wall” scenario. The number of Americans 65 or older, 43 million today, could reach 108 million in 2050—that would be like adding three more Floridas, inhabited entirely by seniors."

- The science of longevity:

"Felipe Sierra, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging, says, “Evolution doesn’t care about you past your reproductive age. It doesn’t want you either to live longer or to die, it just doesn’t care. From the standpoint of natural selection, an animal that has finished reproducing and performed the initial stage of raising young might as well be eaten by something, since any favorable genetic quality that expresses later in life cannot be passed along.” Because a mutation that favors long life cannot make an animal more likely to succeed at reproducing, selection pressure works only on the young."
...
“Constant interaction with other people can be annoying, but overall seems to keep us engaged with life"...For years, the American social trend has been away from “constant interaction with other people”—fewer two-parent homes, fewer children per home, declining participation in religious and community activities, grandparents living on their own, electronic interaction replacing the face-to-face in everything from work to dating. Prosperity is associated with smaller households, yet the large multigeneration home may be best for long life. There are some indications that the Great Recession increased multigeneration living. This may turn out to boost longevity, at least for a time."

- How big changes are coming as society's median age rises:

"In the wild, young animals outnumber the old; humanity is moving toward a society where the elderly outnumber the recently arrived. Such a world will differ from today’s in many outward aspects."
...
"Today, Medicare and Medicaid spend about $150 billion annually on Alzheimer’s patients. Absent progress against aging, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could treble by 2050, with society paying as much for Alzheimer’s care as for the current defense budget."
...
"With Japan at the leading edge of lengthening life expectancy, its interest in robotics can be eerie. Foxconn, the Asian electronics giant, is manufacturing for the Japanese market a creepy mechanized thing named Pepper that is intended to provide company for the elderly. More-sophisticated devices may be in store. A future in which large numbers of very old, incapacitated people stare into the distance as robot attendants click and hum would be a bad science-fiction movie if it didn’t stand a serious chance of happening."

- How the future could be better, not worse, as societies age:

"People in their late teens to late 20s are far more likely to commit crimes than people of other ages; as society grays, the decline of crime should continue. Violence in all guises should continue downward, too. Horrible headlines from Afghanistan or Syria are exceptions to an overall trend toward less warfare and less low-intensity conflict. As Steven Pinker showed in the 2011 book Better Angels of Our Nature, total casualties of combat, including indirect casualties from the economic harm associated with fighting, have been declining, even as the global population has risen. In 1950, one person in 5,000 worldwide died owing to combat; by 2010, this measure was down to one person in 300,000."
...
"Older people also report, to pollsters and psychologists, a greater sense of well-being than the young and middle-aged do. By the latter phases of life, material and romantic desires have been attained or given up on; passions have cooled; and for most, a rich store of memories has been compiled. Among the core contentions of the well-being research of the Princeton University psychologist Daniel Kahneman is that “in the end, memories are all you keep”—what’s in the mind matters more than what you own. Regardless of net worth, the old are well off in this sense....Should large numbers of people enjoy longer lives in decent health, the overall well-being of the human family may rise substantially."

A bit time-consuming, but well worth the read!

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