Managing Longer Lives

People in most countries today are living longer in good health than ever before. But, with life expectancy rising by 2.5 years every decade, societies must adapt their educational systems and employment policies to meet the new needs and desires of people who can look forward to lifespans of a century or more.

ROSTOCK – People in most countries are living longer and longer. Indeed, the rise in life expectancy is seen as a major looming social and economic problem. But is it?

There is, unfortunately, a twofold misunderstanding behind that question. First, the gift of much older age is not one of remote generations. In industrialized countries, the first cohorts of centenarians have already been born. Second, the challenge of longer lives is not a problem, but an opportunity. People are living longer in good health – the most important achievement of modern civilization – and societies today must adapt their educational systems and employment policies to meet the new needs and desires of people who can look forward to lifespans of a century or more.

In the healthiest countries, life expectancy has been rising since 1840 at a remarkably constant rate of about 2.5 years per decade. Life expectancy in most developing countries is increasing even faster as they catch up to the developed-country average. There are tragic exceptions in Africa and the former Soviet Union, but, on the whole, the span of healthy life is lengthening for most of the world’s people.

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