Time’s up for ageing alarmists

That’s the (slightly ambiguous) headline for my latest piece in Inside Story. The central argument will be familiar to readers here. While the term “ageing population” is presented as a reason for gloom, this is a fallacy of composition. What’s actually happening is that, as individuals of any age, we are less likely to die than we use to be. Since dying is usually preceded by sickness and disability, it’s also true that, as individuals of any age, we are less likely to be sick and disabled. This is 100 per cent good news.

After publishing this I was pointed to an interesting article, maybe in the LA Times, which I didn’t note down, something like “a new view of aging”. If anyone else has seen it, maybe they could post a link. Also, there was a piece in Nature claiming 115 as an upper limit to the human lifespan. I think the conclusion is right, but the supporting analysis looked pretty dodgy to me, essentially based on two data points: namely that the longest lived and second longest lived people known to us both died in the 1990s and no one has matched them since. Still, at least Joe Hockey will be happy.

48 thoughts on “Time’s up for ageing alarmists

  1. paul walter :
    The older generation wasnt put out to’pasture because it was past its use by date, but because it was capable of an independent level of thought and action that unnerved authoritarians.

    An accurate idea perfectly expressed. I could not agree more.

  2. @paul walter

    I should have added this. We remembered that a different kind of society was possible. One where capitalism and privatisation were not completely dominant. One where young people could get free tertiary education and full time jobs. One where it was understood that workers should have rights. None of these memories could be tolerated because they led to operative demands.

  3. @Jim Birch

    Is grumpyoldmanism correlated with the higher average age population or did it occur earlier before?

    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” – Socrates/Plato, circa 400 BC.

  4. @paul walter
    Your #18

    “The older generation … was capable of an independent level of thought and action that unnerved authoritarians.”

    No I wasn’t – and I don’t even know any “authoritarians” much less any “unnerved” ones. Unless you count Joe de Bruyn – I understand he’s just a bit authoritarian – but I don’t actually know him.

    So who did you have in mind as the cohort of “unnerved authoritarians” ?

  5. @GrueBleen

    “Quite right ! And therefore I expect every other human being on this planet who possesses an able mind and an able body to be of service – to the maximum of their ability of course – to me !”

    You are saying that you are less able than other people?

    If you judge yourself to be more able than another, it is up to you to give of your superior ability to those others.

    I would say that lots of people here are ‘giving’ to you; you seem so needy.

  6. @Julie Thomas
    Your #31

    “You are saying that you are less able than other people? “

    Que ? Where did that get into the discourse. You just said, and I quote “You are saying that able-minded able bodied people should endeavour to be of service to other people …”.

    Now if you read what you’ve written, you’ll notice a complete absence of any specification that these “able-minded able bodied people” should only endeavour to be of assistance to those less able minded and bodied than themselves. Can you see the total absence of that in what you said ? What you said was that they should “endeavour to be of service to other people”. And I’m an other people, so they should endeavour to be of service to me.

    Is stunningly simple, yes ?

  7. This Grue Bleen…sometimes this interiority, this deep subjectivity. I know you are trying to share something with people, fighting to explicate the ineffable, something to do with the immanent bases of the human condition itself. The last few are rendered continuingly opaque in the very process of rendition, of such a magnitude is that which you seek to explicate upon.

    I am certain you are not a cretin and I am possessed of a deep faith that substance will yet emerge from your earnest but incoherent attempts at connection, as may occur in the outworkings of more universal cosmic forces and processes.

  8. @ 29 GrueBleen
    Well at least we can be sure of: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Indeed. I always was an admirer of Florence Nightingale.

  9. @paul walter
    Your #34

    …sometimes this interiority, this deep subjectivity. I know you are trying to share something with people, fighting to explicate the ineffable, something to do with the immanent bases of the human condition itself. The last few are rendered continuingly opaque in the very process of rendition, of such a magnitude is that which you seek to explicate upon.

    Wau, seldom do we see such acute self awareness in somebody named Paul.

    But no further diversions and evasions, Paul, just tell us who all those “unnerved authoritarians” are. Or even just one “unnerved authoritarian”, Can you do that ?

  10. @GrueBleen

    “But no further diversions and evasions, Paul, just tell us who all those “unnerved authoritarians” are. Or even just one “unnerved authoritarian”, Can you do that ?”

    I can tell you. Look in the mirror. You are a good example of an unnerved authoritarian.

    You are unnerved by what you see as chaos going on here. You are always asking for clarification and then pretending that your question has not been answered.

    Your appeal to JQ to clarify appropriate behaviour in this unnerving environment is a significant indication that you like authoritarianism which is submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action.

  11. @James Wimberley
    Francis Galton, in his famous paper on the efficacy of prayer, pointed out (150 years ago) that the people most prayed for, royalty, did not in fact enjoy enhanced longevity. Similarly, the clergy, the most prayerful (ex hypothesi), did not enjoy enhanced longevity. Galton drew conclusions about the efficacy of prayer, with reservations. The question is open, but data on longevity are available, if one just wants ‘facts’..

  12. @Clive Harberg
    Galton’s work should be rerun. A good many European monarchs are in their eighties and still working.

    The relative situation of royalty and commoners has changed in two ways. Up to about 1850 access to learned physicians was no help at all and possibly counterproductive. From at latest 1950, it made a real difference. Second, in the first half of the 20th century they started marrying commoners, undoing the inbreeding that produced the Habsburg jaw and the haemophilia of Victoria’s male descendants.

    Royalty are no doubt prayed for less today, though the homeopathically low intensity of the intention makes the experiment dodgy.

  13. @Vegetarian
    My two 90+ uncles both had sudden heart attacks while while otherwise being very active. One had a fatal heart attack at the age of 93 while unloading a boat from the roof of his car.

  14. @Vegetarian
    Michael and Vegetarian are clearly ignorant of the long debate over morbidity compression (google it).

    A fair proportion of old people have always been frail and required care for some years before their death. The difference is that 50 years ago “old” meant in their 70s and now “old” means in their 90s. That and we used to expect spinster daughters to look after them.

  15. Vegetarian :
    @Michael
    Spot on, Michael. here are some figures:
    https://theconversation.com/can-medicare-sustain-the-health-of-our-ageing-population-49579
    And anecdotally, I know many people in their nineties and above. All have severe, long-standing medical conditions (dementia, mobility problems, vision and hearing problems etc.) which means many others have had to devote years of paid and unpaid work to keeping them going.

    If people are frail or demented or going blind in their old age it provides an opportunity for others to be carer and have a fulfilled life.

  16. If we continue the present macroeconomic policy of maintaining a massive cohort of unemployed, under-employed, and precariously employed people who desperately want to contribute to society through paid work, then of course we won’t have sufficient people with sufficient skills to provide the goods and services that older people are going to need in the future. It is misguided and naive to see the rise of older people as a percentage of population as a revenue challenge. There is no revenue challenge give that the federal government can always mobilize whatever real resources are available for sale in its currency. It is 100% a real resource issue.

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