At my present advanced age (78) with senility encroaching daily, mortality tables have acquired an addes interest. How long can I expect to live if I make it to 80? You often hear statistics such as life expectancy in 1900 was 47 and it's now 77—but those figures are for life expectancy at birth and the early years of life are the most fragile.

How has life expectancy increased for those who survive childhood? The answer is not much. In 1850 life expectancy for a white male in the USA at birth was 38 years and now it is 76. However for a 20 year old  it was 40 years and now it is 57. For a 60 year old in 1850 life expectancy was almost 16 years and now it is 21.5. And for 80? The change is from 6 years in 1850 to 8 years now.

In other words all the miracles of modern medicine and the benefits of a free market economy have only increased my life expectancy by about 2 years.

I want a refund.

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html

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Nice observation, Dr. Clark, and I agree with you. Many have told me over the years of how science and medicine has lengthened our lives. I agree in so much as polio, smallpox, and influenza are concerned but I bring out that Ben Franklin died at 84 in 1790. Either he was very lucky or we can look at the fact that he was not thrown against the spear or sword. I'm 67 and I firmly believe that earlier mortality a few years back had definate causes and many people today do not know how to get the statistics right. Outside of the killer diseases that have been almost eradicated man today lives about as long as ever if you can keep him away from war.

Unquestionably life spans have increased, but not by as much as the newspapers report. Many people reached the biblical three score and ten even in the ancient times. Childhood has alway been the most dangerous age. The question is whether now that infectious diseases as the threat to children has been largely eliminated, can lifespans be prolonged indefinitely?

I wouldn't be here if it were not for "modern medicine", nor would my husband. So we each got more than 2 years.

Likely there are many here who could say the same.

I want a refund.

You need to appreciate the stunning fact that you are here to want a refund :)

I do appreciate it. At 78 I am still quite active and only feel minor effects of aging, but judging by the experience of my high school buddies, I am in the lucky cohort so far.

At this age it's a crap shoot. You can be fine one day and done the next. Living on the edge gives life a certain piquancy.

a bit of a tenuous feeling, like being a living ghost? 

Not at all like that. More a feeling that today and every day should count. My rule for making every day count is: 1) do something for your body to improve your health; 2) do something for your mind to bolster your spirit; 3) do something for your home to make it cleaner and nicer; and 4) do something for someone else to make them happier.

Allan,

10 or so years ago, the drug that treats my cancer did not exist. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are ineffective. When discovered, my cancer was large and multiplying fast (high mitotic index). If not for surgery, and for that drug, I would already be dead. I would not make it to 60, let alone 80.

I may still not make it to 65. Even so, without modern science or medicine, I would not be here to think about it. I'm grateful, and feel amazingly lucky to have the chance to accomplish a few more things in life and enjoy a little longer before the endless, dreamless sleep of nothingness begins.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of centenarians is growing exponentially.

http://www.nia.nih.gov/newsroom/1999/06/new-census-report-shows-exp...

I'm confused about the statistics in the life expectancy tables. Are they accurate? What is biasing those numbers? How can the # of centenarians be growing, but minimal improvement in life expectancy for octogenarians? There must be a statistical effect I don't know about. I would not despair about what appears to be limited improvement in life expectancy.

I say, enjoy life, and feel fortunate to be here even now.

My point was not to demean medical progress, but only to observed that it has not lengthened life expectancy by as much as reported.

It's hard to know if statistics from long ago are accurate. Many counties did not require death certificates until late in the nineteenth century and census figures are not always reliable because many people did not know their own age. There could therefore be a bias in the reporting of age at death and there is no real way to check it out.

On the question of centenarians, they represent, even in increased number, a small fraction of the population so that even a large increase in their number might not have much effect on the life expectancy figures.

Centenarians are special, genetically lucky.

Twin studies are the customary tool for determining the role that genetics play in any outcome and twin studies on longevity show that genetics are responsible only for 20 to 30 percent of the chance of surviving to 85. Lifestyle may account for the remainder of longevity—70 to 80 percent. 

Seventh Day Adventists have a longer lifespan than average by about 8 years due to their avoidance of smoking, drinking, and meat along with an inclination towards exercise. The word that exercise is tremendously important is getting around these days and at least here in California, gyms are crowded with old people who are exercising vigorously. Still you see many old people bent over and looking feeble, not to mention obesity.

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