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  • „70 is the new 60“ – People are getting increasingly older all over the world

„70 is the new 60“ – People are getting increasingly older all over the world

At the beginning of the 20th century, the average life expectancy was 30. Fortunately, our life expectancy has more than doubled by now and lies at 71. But how long will this trend last? Will we just become older and older or have we already reached the upper limit?

 
 

„70 is the new 60“ – People are getting increasingly older all over the world

At the beginning of the 20th century, the average life expectancy was 30. Fortunately, our life expectancy has more than doubled by now and lies at 71. But how long will this trend last? Will we just become older and older or have we already reached the upper limit?

At an impressive 122 years of age, the French woman Jeanne Calmet was the oldest person who ever lived. According to optimistic researchers, this is by no means the last word. They expect that people are already alive today who could live up to 150 years. Other researchers believe that this is unlikely. The human body is simply not meant to live longer than 130 years. Authors of a study of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development believe that there will continue to be individual record ages but that it will become increasingly difficult to raise the average by any significant amount. At least everyone agrees on the causes for this trend: the increased life expectancy is primarily based on better nutrition, hygiene, and medical progress and was thus first observed in early industrialized countries. But the trend is also moving up in emerging and developing countries.

Social status and education for decisive  

Despite increasing life expectancy, not all people reach the same age. What factors are decisive here? A number of studies show that health and thus life expectancy are significantly determined by social status and education. Almost everywhere in the world, educated people live 2 to 12 years longer on average than people without completed education. In Russia, this discrepancy is especially high: male academics live up to 13 years longer. According to researchers, this is mainly due to the fact that educated people tend to have easier access to knowledge about healthy behaviors and it is easier for them to assess health risks. Education is also a prerequisite for a well-paying job with better working conditions and financial security in old age. In contrast, bad working conditions, existential fears, and unemployment advance to stress and can lead to psychological and physical illness.

When progress makes you sick

However, the advances of our modern civilization also have their drawbacks.  So-called "risks of affluence" like smoking, alcohol, and drugs, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and excess weight have a negative effect on life expectancy. People with lower social status are more likely to be affected by these as well. For instance, smoking was once popular in the upper layers of society, but now this habit is more widespread among disadvantaged social layers.

Does getting old just mean being decrepit for longer?

Is it even desirable to reach a really high age? In the worst case scenario it could mean that you are in and out of hospitals battling various diseases. But chin up: studies have shown that older people between 65 and 69 feel fitter and healthier today than they used to. Even if they suffer from several illnesses, it does not keep most from going through their lives independently. There are even centenarians who are surprisingly independent. But the fact remains that the risk of heart and circulatory disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia increases after 65. Regular preventive health care is thus a must especially for retired people.

Equal access for all

The chances for a long life are quite good today. With a bit of luck and a foresighted lifestyle you can have lots of fun into old age. But to ensure that everyone has this opportunity, in the future governments must master the responsibility of ensuring equal access. Lifespans should not become the luxury of the privileged.

Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung (2017): Hohes Alter aber nicht für alle – Wie sich die soziale Spaltung auf die Lebenserwartung auswirkt
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