80 is the new 70: How our life expectancy grows and grows
130 years and more: Will we all be that old soon and happily play football in the garden with our great-great-grandchildren in the future? Gone are the days when a person only lived to be 30 years old on average. Since the beginning of the 20th century, our life expectancy has more than doubled and is 73 years worldwide by now - in Europe even 81 years! But what will happen next? Will we 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, however, 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 think that there will continue to be individual record ages but that it will become increasingly difficult to raise the current 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.
Almost all record holders of the oldest people in the world therefore come from the richer industrialised nations, i.e. North America, Europe and Japan. Poorer medical conditions, inadequate nutrition and little education in poorer countries significantly reduce average life expectancy.
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. According to statistics, people with lower social status are more likely to be affected by these as well.
Diseases of affluence have only become more prevalent since the middle of the 20th century. Diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity were rarely an issue in times of limited food availability. Sugar, fast food, an abundance of food and, on top of that, more convenient means of transport such as cars favour the development of these diseases. At the same time, constant exposure to the media, stress and overwork, as well as noise and bad air, especially in big cities, are causing rising numbers of mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders.
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. The so-called "healthy life expectancy", i.e. the expected time without major physical limitations and illnesses, is between 65 and 69 years in Germany. The record holder Jeanne Calment is even said to have ridden a bicycle at the age of 100 and to have lived alone until the age of 110.
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. At the same time, good old-age provision and coverage are even more important at a young age. After all, the older we get, the more years of retirement we have to be able to finance - and this can only be achieved with sensible private provision.
Equal access for all
The chances for a long life are quite good today. With a bit of luck, good genes 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.
Fortunately, there are many sensible products and providers on the market today to enable people to live well in old age and to be properly secured financially. And as long as people's life expectancy continues to rise, the demand for provision and appropriate advice is not likely to diminish any time soon.
Whether you are 18 or 80 - we at OVB help young and old to sort out their own finances and look to the future with confidence.