Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

A second language – even if acquired as an adult – can help resist the onset of dementia

June 2, 2014

Being cognitively active has long been suggested as a key element in slowing down the onset of age-related conditions such as dementia and Alzheimers. And being multilingual – it is thought – increases the potential for cognitive activity.

Marian and Shook (2012) – Cognitive benefits of being bilingual

The bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.

And – it would seem from a new study – that having the ability to speak a second language, even if the ability was acquired as an adult, helps in this process.

“Does Bilingualism Influence Cognitive Aging?” Thomas H Bak, Jack J Nissan, Michael M Allerhand and Ian J Deary. Annals of Neurology; Published Online: June 2, 2014 (DOI:10.1002/ana.24158).

Press Release (EurekAlert)New research reveals that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognition later in life. Findings published in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, show that individuals who speak two or more languages, even those who acquired the second language in adulthood, may slow down cognitive decline from aging. 

Bilingualism is thought to improve cognition and delay dementia in older adults. While prior research has investigated the impact of learning more than one language, ruling out “reverse causality” has proven difficult. The crucial question is whether people improve their cognitive functions through learning new languages or whether those with better baseline cognitive functions are more likely to become bilingual. 

“Our study is the first to examine whether learning a second language impacts cognitive performance later in life while controlling for childhood intelligence,” says lead author Dr. Thomas Bak from the Centre for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh. 

For the current study, researchers relied on data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, comprised of 835 native speakers of English who were born and living in the area of Edinburgh, Scotland. The participants were given an intelligence test in 1947 at age 11 years and retested in their early 70s, between 2008 and 2010. Two hundred and sixty two participants reported to be able to communicate in at least one language other than English. Of those, 195 learned the second language before age 18, 65 thereafter. 

Findings indicate that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities compared to what would be expected from their baseline. The strongest effects were seen in general intelligence and reading. The effects were present in those who acquired their second language early as well as late. 

The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 forms the Disconnected Mind project at the University of Edinburgh, funded by Age UK. The work was undertaken by The University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, part of the cross council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Initiative (MR/K026992/1) and has been made possible thanks to funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC). 

“The Lothian Birth Cohort offers a unique opportunity to study the interaction between bilingualism and cognitive aging, taking into account the cognitive abilities predating the acquisition of a second language” concludes Dr. Bak. “These findings are of considerable practical relevance. Millions of people around the world acquire their second language later in life. Our study shows that bilingualism, even when acquired in adulthood, may benefit the aging brain.” 


Eugenics by default: Abortion is of greater significance now than infant mortality ever was

March 6, 2014

We determine the demographic future – almost unthinkingly – by the patterns of child-bearing and child-rearing that we practise today. Population and its composition for the next 100 years or so has already been determined. The Chinese population has started declining and will continue to do so till at least 2100. The Indian population will reach its peak around 2050 and will then decline. The “aging” of populations and the increase of longevity has also been fixed. Demographic “robustness” is critically dependent on maintaining the ratio of the “working” population to the “supported” population (the young and the old). The US is maintaining its demographic sustainability by means of immigration in the face of declining fertility rates. Some countries in Europe are doing the same. Many do not since maintaining  some form of “racial purity” is an undercurrent in many societies and fuels the resistance to immigration – even with dangerous declines in fertility rates. Japan is facing an aging crisis as immigration is resisted. The numbers are inexorable.

Fitness to survive after birth is no longer of significance in the survival stakes. All around the world societies see to it that those with disabilities – once born – are protected. The further evolution of humans will now increasingly be the result of

  1. artificial selection for particular genetic traits, and
  2. the deselection of individuals who have been conceived but are not allowed to be born or to survive and reproduce.

It is my contention that we are in fact – directly and indirectly –  exercising an increasing amount of genetic control in the selection and deselection of our offspring. So much so that we already have “eugenics by default” being applied to a significant degree in the children being born today.

The numbers tell the tale.

One of the key measures of the advances of medical science has been the drastic reduction of infant mortality rates (defined here as deaths after birth but before the age of one year). In the 16th and 17th century this was about 30% of all births (an estimate based on a dearth of data). Since 1950 this rate has dropped from about 15% of all births to around 4% today. The variation is still very high with the current rate being as high as 12% in Afghanistan and 11% in Niger but less than 0.2% in Monaco. By 2050, as development in Africa proceeds, this global rate is expected to have dropped to about 2% (20 per 1000 live births).

It is more difficult to define miscarriages. After fertilisation of an egg it seems that perhaps 50 – 70% fail to attach themselves to the uterus wall and these would not even be considered – or even show up – as a pregnancy. I take such “miscarriages” to be failures of conception. Taking attachment to the uterine wall and the establishment of a fetal heartbeat as being a successful conception, around 10% still result in a miscarriage today.

In 2012 about 135 million babies were born (7 billion population and crude birth rate of 19.15 per 1000 of total population). Worldwide induced abortions numbered about 45 million (estimate). One third of all successful conceptions were not allowed to reach birth.

Economist:  It fell precipitously in the 1990s, but recently the rate has not budged, barely dipping from 29 abortions per 1,000 women (aged 15 to 44) in 2003 to 28 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008. Eastern Europe has the highest abortion rate in the world, at 43 per 1,000. The geography of abortions has also shifted. In 2008, 86% of abortions were in the developing world, up from 78% in 1995.

(Note! the number per 1000 women of child bearing age is different to the number per 1000 live births).

The current status then is:

  • Of 1000 successful conceptions (fetal heartbeat established)
  • less than 20 are by IVF
  • 100 are miscarried before birth
  • 330 are aborted before birth
  • 570 live births result
  • 22 do not survive beyond one year
  • 548 survive beyond 12 months
  • 3 do not survive beyond 5 years
  • About 540 – 545 live to child bearing age

Four hundred years ago miscarriage rates (after successful conception) were probably around 20% of live births and infant mortality rates were about 30%, such that only 50% of all successful conceptions led to children surviving up to their first birthdays.

The picture today is not so different. About 55% of all successful conceptions lead to children surviving beyond one year.

Without moralising about abortion – which I am not qualified to do – as far as the numbers are concerned, infant mortality of 400 years ago has effectively been replaced by abortion today. Deselection which took place in the first year after birth has been shifted to the period after conception but before birth. From a genetic perspective and since there is an element of “selection” in every abortion, abortions today are of greater evolutionary and demographic significance than infant mortality ever was.

Older Dads have sicker children

February 27, 2014

There is – it seems – an optimal child bearing age for fathers as well as mothers. Older fathers may be richer and more able to support a child but there is an increased risk to the health of their children.

A study by Indiana University, in the US, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute is the largest and one of the best designed studies on the issue and suggests that mutated sperm with older fathers are the cause.

Seems very plausible.

Brian M. D’Onofrio, Martin E. Rickert, Emma Frans, Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Catarina Almqvist, Arvid Sjölander, Henrik Larsson and Paul Lichtenstein Paternal Age at Childbearing and Offspring Psychiatric and Academic Morbidity, JAMA Psychiatry, doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.4525

BBC reports: 

A wide range of disorders and problems in school-age children have been linked to delayed fatherhood in a major study involving millions of people.

Increased rates of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide attempts and substance abuse problems were all reported. …….

…. The researchers looked at 2.6 million people and at the difference between siblings born to the same father as it accounts for differences in upbringing between families.

Comparing children of a 45-year-old dad to those of a 24-year-old father it indicated:

  • autism was more than three times as likely
  • a 13-fold increased risk of ADHD
  • double the risk of a psychotic disorder
  • 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder
  • 2.5 times more likely to have suicidal behaviour or problems with drugs
  • lower scores at school

There was no starting point after which the risk started to increase, rather any increase in age had an associated increase in risk.

….. One of the researchers, Dr Brian D’Onofrio, said he was shocked by the findings, which suggested a higher risk than previously estimated. He told the BBC: “The implications of the study is that delaying childbearing is also associated with increased risk for psychiatric and academic problems in the offspring. The study adds to a growing body of research, that suggests families, doctors, and society as a whole must consider both the pros and cons of delaying childbearing.”

The social trend for both parents to have children later in life thus seems to have repercussions for the children. Though the risk may be small it could be said that this a social trend which weakens the health and reduces the well-being of succeeding generations. The demographic effect is that the incidence of psychoses will increase. While having children later may allow a maximisation of the economic contributions of the parents to society, it could also lead to increased medical costs for the affected children in the following generations. Genetic screening and abortion could of course mitigate some of the long term consequences for the evolution of humans.

It could be that we are moving towards greater promiscuity during the “best” child-bearing years but without the production of children due to the availability of contraception. Child bearing itself is then postponed to a more economically suitable time of life for the parents, but a less than optimal time for the health of the children so conceived. Apart from genetic screening of foetuses and abortion of some there does not seem to be a “natural” self-correcting mechanism for this social trend.

Chinese woman said to be 127 years old was born in 1886

October 17, 2013

It has been calculated that there is a high probability that somebody already born will live to see 200 years. That is just a probability of course but if in 2213 it turns out to be true it is likely to be a woman.

There are 54,000 Chinese who are over 100 years old and about 80% of them are women. And the oldest one is Alimihan Seyiti, an Uygur who is 127 years old and was born on June 25, 1886. She is said to have 56 descendants. The claim is still being verified and there are many so called “experts” who doubt the claim.

A Chinese government news portal has claimed that a woman in China's remote far west is 127 years old, making her the oldest person ever to have lived – but experts raised questions over the supposed record.

Alimihan Seyiti sitting in her home in Shule county of Kashgar, northwest China’s Xinjiang region Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Alimihan Seyiti from Kashgar, near the border with Kyrgyzstan, was born on June 25, 1886, said, a government website in Xinjiang – when Grover Cleveland was president of the United States and William Gladstone the British prime minister. …. 

At the time of Seyiti’s supposed birth much of Xinjiang was ruled by Yakub Beg, a Tajik warlord, while Russia held other parts of the region.

Xinhua reports

About four-fifths of the more than 54,000 living Chinese centenarians are women, and a 127-year-old woman from northwest China is the oldest of them all, according to figures released on Wednesday.

The Geriatric Society of China (GSC) claimed the oldest person in China is Alimihan Seyiti, a Uygur who was born on June 25, 1886. She lives in Shule County in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

If verified, Seyiti could be the oldest person in the world, beating by five years the Guinness World Record of 122 set by Jeanne Calment from France. Seyiti was honored by the GSC in June as the oldest person in China after the death of Luo Meizhen in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, who was born in 1885.

Xinjiang, Hunan, Yunnan, Shandong, Guangxi and Sichuan are home to China’s 10 oldest supercentenarians (those who have attained the age of at least 110), and their average age is 119.2 years.

According to GSC figures, rural centenarians outnumber their urban counterparts. Among the 54,166 Chinese centenarians, about three-quarters, or more than 74 percent, are from the countryside.

The GSC also published a list of the 10 oldest couples in China, who are now living in the provinces of Hainan, Henan, Liaoning, Fujian and Shanghai Municipality.

According to the GSC, the oldest living couple are Ping Muhu and his wife Zhang Xinniu from Yuzhou City in central China’s Henan Province, whose combined age stands at 213 years. The average combined age of the 10 oldest couples in China is 207.7 years.

When is a strawberry dead?

June 25, 2013

An interesting discussion yesterday on BBC Radio

What Is Death?

Series 8 Episode 1 of 6 Monday 24 June 2013

“What Is Death?”

In the first of a new series of the award winning science/comedy series, Brian Cox and Robin Ince are joined on stage by comedian Katy Brand, biochemist Nick Lane and forensic anthropologist Sue Black to discuss why death is such an inevitable feature of a living planet. As well as revisiting such weighty scientific issues, such as when can a strawberry, be truly declared to be dead, they’ll also explore the scientific process of death, its evolutionary purpose and whether it is scientifically possibly to avoid it all together.

The death of a strawberry had apparently been discussed on an earlier program last year:

Brian Cox Strawberry

A fascinating discussion regarding when a cell can be truly considered “dead” though I couldn’t quite agree that death was necessary to evolution. Only birth is of course. It would be pretty crowded without death but life – or death – after procreation no longer has any part to play in the passing on of genes to the next generation or on evolution. With immortality there would, of course, be no need for procreation or for any future generations. But if immortal beings did beget other immortal beings then an Infinite Universe would come in very handy. However, the fertility rate needed for replenishment of the mortal members of a species is unconnected to the longevity of the individuals and I cannot see that death, per se, has any impact on evolution.

As far as the life and death of a strawberry are concerned it seemed to me that the question was essentially meaningless. You could as well ask if your finger could be alive when it no longer was connected to your body. A finger -like a strawberry is never truly alive unless connected to the body that it is a part of and the question of life or death when it is separated from its host body is moot.

Self-replicating fingers – or strawberries – would make John Wyndham’s Triffids seem benign.

Biochemical pathway links nail growth to fingertip regeneration

June 13, 2013

We don’t really know why some of our cells keep regenerating and some don’t. Our bodies contain all the information necessary for the growth – or regrowth – or replacement of cells but we do not know – yet – how to trigger or stop such growth. Triggering growth of cells as needed would help us we age and being able to tell cells when to stop multiplying would get rid of our cancers.

We could say that this is a failing of control. All the information necessary is available in us. All the materials necessary are available and all the tools needed are available. But our brains are not capable of giving the specific instructions to grow or to stop to our various cells. If I could I would like to give my knees the signal to regrow some cartilage but I can’t.

This research from the NYU Langone Medical Center is another little step in understanding how regeneration might work.

Wnt activation in nail epithelium couples nail growth to digit regenerationMakoto Takeo et al, Nature (2013), Published online 12 June 2013, doi:10.1038/nature12214

NYU Press ReleaseMammals possess the remarkable ability to regenerate a lost fingertip, including the nail, nerves and even bone. In humans, an amputated fingertip can sprout back in as little as two months, a phenomenon that has remained poorly understood until now. In a paper published today in the journal Nature, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center shed light on this rare regenerative power in mammals, using genetically engineered mice to document for the first time the biochemical chain of events that unfolds in the wake of a fingertip amputation. The findings hold promise for amputees who may one day be able to benefit from therapies that help the body regenerate lost limbs.  

“Everyone knows that fingernails keep growing, but no one really knows why,” says lead author Mayumi Ito, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU School of Medicine. Nor is much understood about the link between nail growth and the regenerative ability of the bone and tissue beneath the nail. Now, Dr. Ito and team have discovered an important clue in this process: a population of self-renewing stem cells in the nail matrix, a part of the nail bed rich in nerve endings and blood vessels that stimulate nail growth. Moreover, the scientists have found that these stem cells depend upon a family of proteins known as the “Wnt signaling network”—the same proteins that play a crucial role in hair and tissue regeneration—to regenerate bone in the fingertip.
“When we blocked the Wnt-signaling pathway in mice with amputated fingertips, the nail and bone did not grow back as they normally would,” says Dr. Ito. Even more intriguing, the researchers found that they could manipulate the Wnt pathway to stimulate regeneration in bone and tissue just beyond the fingertip. “Amputations of this magnitude ordinarily do not grow back,” says Dr. Ito. These findings suggest that Wnt signaling is essential for fingertip regeneration, and point the way to therapies that could help people regenerate lost limbs. An estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. live with amputations.
The team’s next step is to zoom in on the molecular mechanisms that control how the Wnt signaling pathway interacts with the nail stem cells to influence bone and nail growth.

Future human evolution will be selection by deselection

June 6, 2013

io9 carries  a look at how science fiction treats evolution :The most ludicrous depictions of evolution in science fiction history.

Of course this begs the question as to how humans are likely to evolve over the coming generations?

Humans and chimpanzees ancestors split some 7-8 million years ago and it took some 350,000 generations after that divergence for evolution by natural selection to produce anatomically modern humans (AMH). (This of course raises the question as to how chimpanzee evolution proceeded to reach modern chimpanzees while humans were developing into homo sapiens?).

It has been only about 10,000 generations since AMH appeared and only some 6,000 generations or so since modern humans left Africa. A very short time in evolutionary terms yet in this period humans have evolved to exhibit the various races of man that exist today. This differentiation is primarily superficial and all humans existing are capable of mating and producing viable offspring with each other. In theory humans existing today would also be compatible and – in the main – capable of mating with the humans of 6,000 generations ago. In practice a meeting of modern humans with those from 120,000 years ago would be an exaggerated replica of modern man meeting with isolated tribes in the 20th century. These isolated branches of humanity generally had lower levels of immunity to the bacteria carried by their distant cousins and were ravaged by disease after such encounters. The bacteria we carry are probably greatly different to those that humans carried at the dawn of anatomically modern humans. Probably no such meeting or mating would be very successful and one or both would probably succumb to disease brought on by the other’s bacteria. Nevertheless the genomes of the two – even after 6,000 generations – would  not be so very different and probably still be compatible. In any primate species a generational distance of over 20,000 between individuals will probably disqualify any theoretical possibility of successful mating.


India’s plummeting birth rates illustrate the coming population decline

May 9, 2013

Fertility rates are dropping sharply across the world and simple arithmetic tells us that by 2100 world population will be steady or declining slightly. In fact, rather than facing a population explosion and food shortages we will be facing the demographic challenges of a stable or declining population together with an increase in longevity. A new flexibility in the patterns of working will be needed as the populations in work reduce in proportion to those beyond retirement age. Retirement age itself will have to increase.

Yet it seems to me that the utterly alarmist, Malthusian, catastrophe scenarios for world population put forward in the 1970’s and 80’s by the Club of Rome, Ehrlich and other doom-mongers still prevail as “conventional wisdom” – even though it has long been established that their basic assumptions were plain wrong. For some reason environmentalists are the most ardent deniers of what the arithmetic says. They are the first to proclaim the dangers of population explosions yet are extremely loth to abandon catastrophe scenarios they have espoused when they are shown to be exaggerated or false.

I was therefore glad to see the subject getting attention in GeoCurrents where Martin W Lewis addresses and presents the sharply falling fertility rates around the world and in the various States in India. His maps are particularly well put together. The average fertlity rate in India is now down to 2.5 but many of the States fall well below the “replacement rate” of 2.2. The variation of fertility rates is impacted by the “usual suspects”; GDP, female literacy, proportion of urban dwellers, life expectancy, the Human Development Index (HDI) and the availability of electricity. But as Lewis shows there is also a striking correlation between fertility and TV ownership (seems plausible) and between fertility rates and the exposure of women to the media (also very plausible).

India’s Plummeting Birthrate: A Television-Induced Transformation?

…. It can be deceptive, however, to view India as an undivided whole. As shown on the map posted here, fertility figures for half of India are actually below replacement level. Were it not for the Hindi-speaking heartland, India would already be looking at population stabilization and even decline. All the states of southern India post TFR figures below 1.9. A number of states in the far north and the northeast boast similarly low fertility levels, including West Bengal, noted for its swarming metropolis of Calcutta (Kolkata).

(from GeoCurrents)

India’s geographical birthrate disparities, coupled with the country’s admirable ability to collect socio-economic data, allow us to carefully examine ideas about fertility decline. The remainder of this post will do so through cartography, comparing the Indian fertility-rate map with maps of other social and economic indicators. ……. 


Some scholars have argued that recent fertility decreases in India and elsewhere in the Third World are more specifically linked to one technological innovation: television. The TV hypothesis is well-known in the field, discussed, for example, in the LiveScience article on the African population explosion mentioned above. In regard to India, Robert Jensen and Emily Oster argue persuasively that television works this magic mostly by enhancing the social position of women. As they state in their abstract:

This paper explores the effect of the introduction of cable television on women’s status in rural India. Using a three-year, individual-level panel dataset, we find that the introduction of cable television is associated with significant decreases in the reported acceptability of domestic violence towards women and son preference, as well as increases in women’s autonomy and decreases in fertility. We also find suggestive evidence that exposure to cable increases school enrollment for younger children, perhaps through increased participation of women in household decision-making. We argue that the results are not driven by pre-existing differential trends.

As it turns out, the map of television ownership in India does bear a particularly close resemblance to the fertility map. Two anomalously low-fertility states with low levels of female education, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, score relatively high on TV penetration, as does West Bengal, which lags on several other important socio-economic indicators. The correlation is far from perfect: Mizoram ranks higher on the TV chart than its fertility figures would indicate, whereas Odisha and Assam rank lower. Odisha and Assam turn out to be a bit less exceptional in a related but broader and more gender-focused metric, that of “female exposure to media.” These figures, which include a television component, seem to provide the best overall correlation with the spatial patterns of Indian fertility.

(from GeoCurrents)

On being 65!

February 23, 2013

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

I was 65 last Sunday and still sometimes go out till quarter to three. But I carry a key.

I am now officially “past-it” and this is wonderful. Nothing of earth-shattering significance is any longer expected of me. Anything I can manage to do now makes me an over-achiever.

People ask whether I have “retired” and here in Sweden I am asked if I am a “pensioner”, but I never know how to reply correctly. A “pensioner” is used here as a kind of a label which I find less than flattering. While I have activated some “pensions” as sources of income, I take on consultancy assignments and lecture and write and that also generates some income.  So, yes I have stopped being an “employee” but  no – I have not retired from life  – yet!. I don’t mind if strangers offer me a seat in crowded places!  I don’t mind being called “uncle” when I am visiting India but I’m still getting used to being addressed as “the old man” or as “Grandfather”. I am expected to be opinionated – which I was anyway. My natural arrogance is less offensive or perhaps I have mellowed and have lost some of my cutting edge. I am not dishevelled but I don’t worry much about how I look any more or if my colour combinations are bizarre. I only need to – or wish to – wear a tie once or twice a month. I can even get away with wearing my old shoe-string ties from the 60’s or broad flowered ties from the 70’s. If I could have gotten into some of my old bell-bottomed trousers I would have (and I don’t know why I am still preserving them). I get reminders about influenza vaccinations but they don’t convince me. I get diabetes diets sent to me by post and e-mail but they don’t offer anything better than what common sense tells me. I get special health insurance offers but they are just junk-mail. Investment opportunities for “seniors” come through tele-marketeers or drop through the letter box but I suspect that they use “senior” as a euphemism for “senile”.

Back in my youth when I turned 60 my son – very dispassionately – said to me, “You studied for 20 years , worked for 40 and you have 20 years left. Why would you want to do anything you did not want to?”. At that time I was deciding whether to continue working for a large multi-national or to do my own thing. With the question formulated as my son did, the answer became a “no-brainer”. Well I have been doing what I wanted to since then. Now I have 15 years to go and don’t intend to do anything I don’t want to. I may be past-it but the list of things I want to do – and can do – keeps expanding. Fifteen years won’t come close to being long enough to get through the entire list so I will have to make priorities. Paradoxically, I am in no rush though.

I wrote my first book a couple of years ago and 3 more are burgeoning in my head. I want to get at least a couple of these written and published. I have idle thoughts about combining onions and red chillies with management theory. It will have to be a cookery book on odd numbered pages and management analogies on even numbered pages! That will take some doing and I have no idea  – yet – of how to make it work. I must still organise my books and establish my “library”. I have still to be fully converted to Kindle. Over the years I have visited some 100 countries while “on business” but now I want to see some of those places without the constraints of having “business” to do. I want to retrace my father’s steps in 1942 when he journeyed 3000 miles to freedom and that is a major project spanning 6 countries which may take a year or so to set up. I want to continue lecturing and especially to young graduates as long as I can still maintain relevance and connect with them. I want to continue holding workshops and seminars for managers as long as I can stay abreast of what is happening in industry and I can add value. I want to drive slowly across what was once called Eastern Europe but I have no desire to sacrifice comfort while doing so. I want to go on a leisurely safari in South Africa. I would like to cruise to the Galapagos and Easter Island. I would like to participate – for a day or two – in an archaeological dig. I would like to truly find a fossil in the field (and not from a museum shop).

I don’t believe in catastrophe theories. Generations to come will solve their own problems far more effectively than us trying to anticipate and eliminate their challenges. The world is far from perfect. But more people are being fed and clothed then ever before in the history of humanity. The glass is more than half-full.

To be without the burden of the expectations of others is a luxury and being 65 looks like fun!

The world is lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
and miles to go before I sleep

(apologies to Robert Frost)

A retirement age of 78 will be needed in Norway for children born today

January 23, 2013

Increasing lifespans are real and the period during which we can be productive is increasing and what follows is inevitable. At the present rate of longevity increasing by about 3 months every year, by 2500 most people will live to be 200. Considering that world population is likely to be falling slowly after 2100 it seems not unconnected that any consequent decrease in human economic activity will be (will have to be) compensated for by people having a longer productive life.

A year ago a trial balloon was sent up by the Swedish Prime Minister when he imagined a retirement age of 70 rather than the current 65. Now a suggestion that retirement age will have to be increased to 78 has been floated in Norway. The necessary debate is starting but the result is not in doubt – only the timing is.

But before not too long the  human condition of “study for 20 work for 40 and live to 80”  which probably applies to me will change to “study for 25, work for 50 and live to 100” and will apply to my children. And probably within another 200 years it would have become “study for 40, work for 80 and live to 160”.

Svenska Dagbladet:

Work until you’re 78. It could become necessary for Norwegians born today if the financial burden on the productive section of the population is not to become too large. The calculation and the challenge is from the Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Industry and has created a heated debate in Norway.

Life expectancy is on the rise in both Sweden and Norway. It will force today’s young people to work longer than today. But to retire at 78 years of age is not what many are convinced about.  Sweden had a similar debate when Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt spoke of 75 years as an appropriate retirement age.

In Norway, the suggestion is that 78 years is the appropriate age but Professor Hilde Björnland has doubts: “ The calculation is interesting because it shows the increased pension obligations we face. It is not enough to work up to age 67 if we are to cope with the coming demographic challenges”. But, she says, there is a difference between a long life and increasing mental and physical health. It is uncertain whether we can work much longer than 65-70 years even though we live longer. It depends on how the jobs look like in the future, it depends on how the tasks are suited to us as we get older. Today, only 2.3 percent of the Norwegian population work between 67 and 74 years. After 74 years, it is so small that it is not measurable by the Norwegian Central Statistical Office.

Those who want to raise the retirement age to 78 years at Den Norske Bank believe in any case that today’s young people must be prepared to work much longer than their parents’ generation did. But to get people to work more years in a country that has huge oil revenues and would like to convert income to more leisure time will not be easy. … 

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