631: Older

A Thousand Things to Talk About
631: Older

What do you consider old?

Full episode script

This is probably going to come as a shock, but, quote:

The gap in years between actual age and “felt age” widens as people grow older. Nearly half of all survey respondents ages 50 and older say they feel at least 10 years younger than their chronological age. Among respondents ages 65 to 74, a third say they feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age, and one-in-six say they feel at least 20 years younger than their actual age.


In other words, the Pew Research Center tells us, the line of what counts as “old” tends to move the closer to the line you get.


Wherever you consider that line to be, however, there’s a researcher out there who is willing to tell you about how life spans are getting so much longer, and the various challenges that might be presented by those longer life spans.


As one writer put it in The Atlantic, quote:

Viewed globally, the lengthening of life spans seems independent of any single, specific event. It didn’t accelerate much as antibiotics and vaccines became common. Nor did it retreat much during wars or disease outbreaks. A graph of global life expectancy over time looks like an escalator rising smoothly. The trend holds, in most years, in individual nations rich and poor; the whole world is riding the escalator.


But is that assumption right? That human life spans are getting longer? Maybe not — though it, as always, depends on how you look at the numbers.


Life spans and life expectancy are two different things — and when you’re talking averages, things get even more skewed. As one article for the BBC put it, quote:

“There is a basic distinction between life expectancy and life span,” says Stanford University historian Walter Scheidel, a leading scholar of ancient Roman demography. “The life span of humans – opposed to life expectancy, which is a statistical construct – hasn’t really changed much at all, as far as I can tell.”


While there are certainly some quirks — such as the fact that most of our historical data is on the basis of mostly rich males who demographers considered “worth” tracking the life spans of — the data does tell us that, in all reality, plenty of people have been living to 100 years old or older for thousands of years, as long as they make it past childhood.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.