Has Longevity Stopped Increasing?
Those of us who are pensioners have seen our age at death increasing year on year. The extension has been one and a half years for each decade over the past 50 years. Figures in the past few weeks suggest that we have to ask a new question; has longevity stopped increasing?
What do the figures say?
Between 2006 – 2011 we were adding 12.9 weeks each year to our life, over two years each decade. Between 2011 – 2016 this dropped to 1.6 weeks per year, a 90% fall. We are all still living longer but at a much reduced rate. As a consequence, men currently live to 79.2 years and women 82.9 years, on average. That is at least twice as long as Zuri expected to live in 2200BC, although she did not know or record her age.
A Bad Year!
The worst year was 2015, when we had a large increase in the number of overall deaths. It takes some years to assess data and identify trends and it is anticipated that the situation is continuing to worsen. The question is why?
Men are living Longer
First, the good news! Men are living longer, consequently, they do not need to pose the question has longevity stopped increasing? The main reason for this is that they stopped smoking and drinking as heavily. Also, many men have moved out of dangerous occupations such as mining and fishing. Heart disease was also higher for men but has been reduced.
The Council Estate
Writing this I am immediately transported back to the council estate of my youth; the 1950’s. Male drinking, heavy drinking, was much more prominent. These men left the pubs, jumped on the last bus home at 11pm, could not walk a straight line, and often beat their wives and children. Beer and bars was their obsession and food never seemed to hold much appeal. They died early and women spent a long time as widows. With men now living longer, the data suggests that both men and women will live the same length of time by 2032 – 87.5 years. This must now be doubted because the trend appears downward for perhaps the last eight years.
Back to Why?
There appears no agreement over why longevity has stalled. Medical science seems to have given us longer lives but perhaps this has peaked. Labour politicians and some charities blame Tory expenditure cuts, the austerity programme. This is supported by the fact that the worst longevity is in places like Hartlepool. It’s not being in the North in itself because affluent locations like Kendal and Harrogate have relatively high longevity. Money appears the chief arbiter; the wealthy simply live longer. That’s why people in Christchurch lead very long lives; or is it because the affluent just walk more? The muscles really matter.
Long life can have consequences, not all of them good. We are infatuated with longevity rather than active and purposeful lives. These days, an increasing number of old people lapse into a state of morbidity, often for many years. This state is about being so unwell, so immobile, that a return to health is not feasible. Our mental approach to health is important here and perhaps it does not help when people, especially those in heavy work, see retirement as ‘rest’. As a consequence they might gain weight, even be obese, and yet not notice that they are walking slower. That assumes, of course, that they walk at all! Ambling can be a sign that muscles are declining along with mobility and even cognition; ambling is really ageing! Far more people, even in their forties, are now walking much slower than in the past.
An acceptance of slowness, as if inevitable with age, might be bad psychology. It might also lead to a belief that the NHS can sort us out and we need not be ‘active’. The doctors cannot sort out immobility, the wasted body. This slowness syndrome is perhaps the real reason why we are reaching the limit of our longevity.