Developments in life expectancy and the growing emphasis on biological and ‘healthy’ aging raise a number of important questions for health scientists and economists alike. Is it preferable to make lives healthier by compressing morbidity, or longer by extending life? What are the gains from targeting aging itself compared to efforts to eradicate specific diseases? Here we analyze existing data to evaluate the economic value of increases in life expectancy, improvements in health and treatments that target aging. We show that a compression of morbidity that improves health is more valuable than further increases in life expectancy, and that targeting aging offers potentially larger economic gains than eradicating individual diseases. We show that a slowdown in aging that increases life expectancy by 1 year is worth US$38 trillion, and by 10 years, US$367 trillion. Ultimately, the more progress that is made in improving how we age, the greater the value of further improvements.
Author(s): Andrew J. Scott, Martin Ellison, David A. Sinclair
It turned out that, indeed, people varied widely in biological aging: The slowest ager gained only 0.4 “biological years” for each chronological year in age; in contrast, the fastest-aging participant gained nearly 2.5 biological years for every chronological year.
And by age 45, rapid biological agers were already showing some health indicators normally associated with old age.
Compared with their peers, they moved more slowly, had weaker grip strength, and more problems with balance, vision and hearing.
Differences in mental sharpness were clear, too, the researchers found.
In one sense, there is an enormous wealth of research on the economics of longer lives. This is a byproduct of the operations of sizable pensions and life insurance industries, dependent as they are on successfully predicting future trends in life span. On the other hand, outside this somewhat narrow scope, most concerned with the gain of a tenth of a year here and the loss of a tenth of a year there, there is comparatively little economic work that is directly tied to the research and advocacy communities engaged in trying to treat aging and greatly lengthen healthy human lifespan. That will change as the longevity industry both grows and succeeds in introducing age-slowing and rejuvenating therapies into the clinic.
The paper and commentary that I point out today might be taken as a sample of what lies ahead for the economics profession. At least some economists are at present managing to convince grant-awarding bodies in their field that, yes, there is real movement towards the treatment of aging, and perhaps someone should look into how that will likely play out in markets and societies. It should come as no great surprise to the audience here that even modest gains in slowing or reversing aging have vast economic benefits when they occur across an entire population. The cost of coping with aging is vast, the cost of incapacity and lost knowledge and death due to aging equally vast. It is by far the biggest and most pressing issue that faces humanity, and now we enter an era in which we can finally start to do something about it.
Throughout history, it was typical to see both birth and death rates at higher levels. But today, in most parts of the world, women are having fewer children, and innovations in healthcare and technology mean we are all living longer. The average person today lives to 72.6 years old, while the rate of births per woman has fallen to 2.5.
These trends have drastically altered the demographics of mature economies, resulting in a much older population. In many developing countries, however, births still outweigh deaths, resulting in populations that skew younger.
This visualization uses data from the World Bank to examine the countries with the highest shares of old and young people.