Longevity Is No Longer a Novelty; It’s Becoming an Expectation
A neuropsychiatrist professor in New Zealand says the number of centenarians will increase “seven- to eight-fold over the next three decades." Photo: Carla Billingsley/EyeEm/Getty Images
Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.
Since King George V started the custom in 1917, British monarchs send congratulatory letters to British and Commonwealth subjects when they reach their 100th birthday. In 1952, when Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, she sent out 255 such messages. By 2014, the number had skyrocketed to over 7,000. And the Queen narrowly missed hitting that landmark herself.
As more and more people reach 100, it’s clear that more and more people expect to reach 100. And expect others to reach 100.
Just as one example, USA Track & Field organizes track meets in “master” categories for competitors over age 35. It now runs up to age 105. There are enough competitors to return a meaningful result if you search on Wikipedia.
I like to keep an eye on factoids like these, because they all speak to the “normalization” of longevity, and that normalization is a social force in and of itself. If we treat longevity as a reasonable expectation, not an outlandish one-off aberration, this in turn means more support for policies that encourage and enable that longevity. This is over and above longevity research in the lab; it speaks to social policy, housing policy, financial policy — in fact, the reimagining of almost every aspect of our community and how it works.
That’s why I was attracted to this article, which originates in New Zealand. It asks, “Could we live to be 150?” and — importantly — characterizes it as “an age-old question.” I’m glad to have it thought of it in that way. Not so long ago it would have been called “an unthinkable question.”
The article, an interview with neuropsychiatrist professor Perminder Sachdev, who was awarded a prize by New Zealand Prime Miniter Jacinda Ardern, lays out in great detail just how reasonable the question has become:
- It points out that the number of centenarians will increase “seven- to eight-fold over the next three decades”
- While the professor doubts the feasibility of living to 150 — “with the current technology” — he speaks of living to 120 as a distinct possibility
- And as for 100? “We can reasonably hope to live to 100 with regular exercise, good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. We can hope to live well into our 90s, as independent well-functioning individuals. That’s really the miracle of modern science and a modern standard of living.”
Consider the impact of this “normalization” of longevity on just one topic — retirement and its associated financial planning. If the professor’s observation becomes the expected norm — and it’s well on the way — then the entire model of retirement and pensions and “planning for old age” must be swept away and rebuilt. If “we can hope to live well into our 90s as independent well-functioning individuals,” this means we have 25-plus years to go when we reach the “traditional” retirement age of 65. Will we have enough money to cover this if we stop working at that age? Already this is becoming an urgent question for financial planners and, more slowly (because they’re usually the last to get on board), for government policy-makers.
Bottom line: I’m delighted someone thinks that the possibility of living to 150 is an “age-old question” and not a wild-eyed oddity. It doesn’t really matter what the “magic number” is or is not, at any point in time. What counts is that longevity is ever more widely recognized as the new norm, the new expectation.
David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of two books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.