Longevity – the First and Biggest Change

In 1900 the average life expectancy worldwide was 31. In the US it was 46. Today in the US it is 78.8. Life expectancy has been gaining 3 months a year for years now.

There has been a lot of talk about demographics in the US for a while now, and how the younger generation that is coming up is less conservative and less white. What gets lost in these discussions most of the time is that there has been a population explosion at the top of the age pyramid as well and it is a completely different demographic. Retirees from the Boomer era are currently at peak power and numbers – there has never before been a group of seniors this large or this healthy. Ever.

Around the world, this is sending shockwaves through our institutions and systems. There are more people alive today that are over 100 than there has ever been. There are more people in the 70-100 age group now than there has ever been. The sheer numbers is staggering currently there are around 617 million people over the age of 65 worldwide. The largest growth of population worldwide is at the top. Estimates guess that by the year 2050 this will have increased to 1.5 billion people.

Many different forces in collusion have contributed to this rapidly aging population. Better healthcare around the world, vaccines, steep declines in war, crime and violence, rise of better safety features, falls in pollution and disease, faster emergency response, better medications, better food diversity and availability, the availability of birth control, the shift in employment from agricultural jobs, better technology, migration from rural areas to cities – all have contributed. There is no single factor but many all rises in concurrence with each other, all affecting the changes in population growth in different unpredictable ways.

As the population ages it changes the culture. The whole world culture has been affected by life spans changing around the world. Life expectancy has changed marriage and people’s views of marriage – as people age, and as aging becomes the expected outcome for more and more people it also gives rise to a new problem – people that married when the average length of marriage was significantly shorter who are now married to someone for decades longer than they expected to be. It is no wonder the Boomers lead in divorce rates; they are the generation that saw this change the most. The Boomers are on track to be the most divorced generation ever (Xer’s and Millennials are less likely to divorce than their predecessors, but most believe this is because on the average they marry older).

As more elderly live longer lives, the percentage of children vs. the percentage of elderly creep upward. Worldwide children are being born at a rate of 2.5 per woman. Currently those who are over the age of 60 outnumber children by just one percent (19% to 18% of worldwide population) but this number is expected to climb. Worldwide adults outnumber children by an average of 4 to 1. This matters because the wider the gap in population between the number of adults and the number of children the less tolerance and less spending the world wants to do for children. Do you fund the elementary school or do you fund Medicare? Well – who votes?

Why did the Boomers change marriage so much? Likely its simply that they entered marriage with an expectation that didn’t pan out – they entered expecting to be married for 35-40 years. They didn’t plan on 70. The world changed. They changed. In that tumult of change, many decided to go their separate ways.  This is neither an excuse for them nor a condemnation – the 3x married Donald Trump is in many ways emblematic of the generation, opinionated and loud, with little stability – this is how the generation will be remembered. But before we are too harsh on them, remember that the world changed drastically in their generation – and almost constantly. It is too soon to suppose we Xer’s and Millennials (I am right between the two and one or the other depending on what graphs are used) will fare better.

Because it appears that in terms of longevity and possible change, the world is just getting started. What will be the result of all this change in demographics? The truth is, we have no idea.