Some very interesting facts:
- Two thirds of all the people over 65 that ever lived are alive today. Put it another way: for every person in the history of mankind that died after the age of 65, there are two people over 65 alive today.
- Life expectancy at birth increases by 2.5 years every decade. This means that chances are that my younger son will live 8 years longer than me.
- Pensions were introduced in 1899 by Bismarck, and they benefited "old people", i.e. those older than 65. At that time, life expectancy at birth was 47 years. Today it is 77.8.
- Today, if you live to the age of 65, you still have, on average, 18.7 years to live (US figures).
- At the time of Bismarck's reform, a very small percentage of people received pensions. To maintain the same percentage today, retirement age should be 95!
- The vast majority of over-65 people say that they do not want to retire. They want to keep active, although probably part-time.
- An obvious one: Pensions need to be reformed. If we now need to save (contribute to a pension scheme) for 30 years, and enjoy the fruits for 18.7 years, then, at the current rates, numbers do not add up. If, in 30 years time, the life expectancy at the age of 65 becomes 26.2, then the trouble is greater still.
- Nobody should count too much on state pensions. We all should be saving ourselves.
- Doctors can make us live longer, but we need prepare ourselves for living those 10 or 15 extra years. In what shape will our bodies be? What do we need to do to have our minds ready for 15 more years? By the way, I read once that people that play chess or bridge have two thirds less probability of developing Alzheimer's disease.
- Our economies need to find ways to employ older people, even if it is part time.
- There is a huge and exploiting market selling to people over 65. Expect them to be active, have some labor income and substantial investment income.
Adding an extra 10 years will be much more difficult, probably an order of magnitude more. Surely there must be a point where it is just physically impossible to improve life expectancy. The human body is incredibly complex, and there comes an age where everything starts to fail: the bones, the muscles, the digestive system, the nervous system. And there must be some physical limit to how long people can live.
This reminds me of Moore's law in semiconductors. Moore's law says that the power of microprocessors doubles every 18 months. Moore's law has applied for decades, and for decades people have predicting its demise: there must be a point where the laws of physics do not allow to improve the processor power. And the complexity of doubling the speed is ever greater, mainly because there are so many things to improve, so many rocks to remove to go from one level to the next. As it turned out, our ingenuity has so far been able to match the ever-increasing number and complexity of these problems.
In medicine as in semiconductors, the task of fighting disease is ever more complex. I bet on our ingenuity to keeping up to the challenge. I propose an analog to Moore's law, that says that life expectancy will keep increasing by 1.8 years every decade, for centuries to come.