A middle class girl born in the US today has a 50/50 chance of reaching 100 years old. A guess, yes. But the prediction reflects what Princeton economist Angus Deaton says is rather likely.
Looking back at the steady increase in life expectancy, Deaton, in an econtalk interview, said we developed a whole new attitude about germs during the past century. In 1910, a hotel would not have changed the sheets in a new guest’s room. And a young newborn would have had just an 80% chance of living beyond her 5th birthday. As the century unfolded, cleaner water, better sanitation, vaccinations, all extended life expectancy. The result was an average of 3 more months a year for more than 1 1/2 centuries.
As for that 100 year prediction, not all demographers agree. In fact, a rather vitriolic divide appears to have developed between two of the leaders in the field. James Vaupel (Duke University and Max Planck Institute in Germany) expects life expectancy to continue climbing in nations that already have long livers. S. Jay Olshansky (University of Illinois) emphatically believes that widespread obesity will obstruct any climb toward 100 and that saving the young contributed to past advances.
Whichever, 100+ or 85, we are growing older and the difference for our economy will be monumental. How much of our limited resources will our octogenarians, nonagenarians and supercentenarians need? So much to discuss.
Sources and Resources: I will be referring to more of Angus Deaton’s ideas from his new book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality and his thought-provoking econtalk interview and also recommend this summary of the debate between James Vaupel and Jay Olshansky (the source of my graph). More than a debate, the discussion is about an economic tectonic shift.