Humans have been obsessed with living forever for a long time.
The truth is that we are living longer.
As you can see below, life expectancy in Australia has jumped from 71 years in 1971 to 82.5 years in 2016.
Source: World Bank
And life expectancy is increasing fast.
According to the World Health Organization, between 2000 and 2015, global average life expectancy increased by five years. That is the fastest increase since the 1960s.
We are living longer, but we are also getting older.
Here is the population pyramid for the world in the 1950s.
And here is the same pyramid in 2015. As you can see, it looks much different.
The thing is, living longer is not only about extending the time we live, but also about expanding our health span. That is, the portion of our life we live healthy.
That’s why some scientists are starting to approach ageing as an illness…one that we could maybe even find a cure for.
One of these scientists is gerontologist Aubrey de Grey.
Ageing: Physics or Biology
De Grey argues that ageing is more about physics than biology. What he means is, our bodies get old because of lifestyle, because of the normal operation our bodies go through during everyday life.
According to De Grey, the human body is a machine, similar to a car. And, the way he thinks we could increase our health span is through the ‘maintenance approach’.
He argues that if we can figure out a way to perform regular maintenance throughout our lives, we could combat ageing, and expand our healthy life.
What he means is, instead of treating ageing diseases like Parkinson’s, osteoporosis or cancer as they develop, we instead repair the tear and wear before it develops into a disease.
How long could humans live with this ‘maintenance approach’? Well, De Grey thinks ‘There’s really no limit.’ And he doesn’t think our technology is too far off from accomplishing this.
De Grey is also the cofounder of the Methuselah Foundation, which is looking to create a world where 90-year-olds are as healthy and energetic as 50-year-olds by 2030.
In 2003 the foundation created the Methuselah Mouse Prize for Regenerative Medicine (Mprize). Basically, they give a cash prize to the research team that can break the world record in producing the world’s oldest mouse. There is also another prize for rejuvenating an older mouse. It is not just one prize, though. One that is awarded every time someone breaks the record.
Why mice? In a way, they are similar to humans, and they have short lifespans that we can track.
You may be thinking De Grey is out there…
…yet the fact is that with the percentage of inactive population increasing healthcare costs and pensions will take a toll.
An ageing population may force us to figure out a way to improve health spans.
As CNBC recently reported, 10,000 baby boomers are retiring each day in the US. And, it is not just the US. Japan and the European Union also have ageing populations.
There are less young people in the world, and a shrinking workforce and longer life spans could make the current pension situation unsustainable.
The Thing is, it is Not Just the Pension Problem
Longer health spans mean that many may have to stay in the workforce for longer to be able to afford retirement.
You see, since 2008 we have had low growth and low — or even negative — interest rates. Governments were counting on that to grow the pension amounts. And, there is the fact that workers are also entering retirement with more debt.
That’s why it is highly likely that tomorrow’s workforce will have to work longer.
Governments around the world are already increasing the retirement age. As the OECD reports, increases in retirement ages are planned in 28 out of the 34 OECD countries.
In Australia, the government has increased the pension age from 65 to 67 by 2023.
And, the thing is healthcare costs are also increasing.
An ageing population means we are spending more on healthcare. As you can see in the graph below, health spend as a percentage of gross domestic product in the US has increased from 7% in 1970 to almost 18% in 2016.
Source: Health System Tracker
We are living longer than ever, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are healthier. Improving our health spans will become an important trend for the future.
Editor, Markets & Money