«Presented at the Living to 100 Symposium Orlando, Fla. January 8–10, 2014 Copyright 2014 by the Society of Actuaries. All rights reserved by the ...»
Living to 100: Socioeconomic Implications of Increased Longevity
Rick Gorvett, FCAS, ASA, CERA, MAAA, ARM, FRM, Ph.D.
Presented at the Living to 100 Symposium
January 8–10, 2014
Copyright 2014 by the Society of Actuaries.
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Living to 100: Socioeconomic Implications of Increased Longevity Rick Gorvett, FCAS, ASA, CERA, MAAA, ARM, FRM, Ph.D.1 Abstract Most actuarial explorations of increased longevity have, quite understandably, focused on direct financial implications for things like health care costs, retirement systems, and social security or other public policy provisions. But future life extension has many other potential implications, both direct and indirect, for various socioeconomic factors, which in turn have the potential to affect the actuarial valuation of future risk contingencies. This paper examines a sampling of the socioeconomic issues emerging from the possibility of substantially increased longevity. Because of the complexity and interrelatedness of these issues, actuarial and risk modeling of this prospective environment could be a significant challenge.
I. Introduction While there is large variability between specific projections of human life extension in both the near and far future, one thing seems clear: Expected lifetimes will increase, possibly significantly. Historically, expected lifespans have increased primarily because of improvements with respect to infant mortality. At least in developed countries, that source of expected lifespan improvement has largely been exhausted. Nevertheless, going forward, scientific and medical advances are anticipated to continue (although to what degree is open to much debate), and late-life improvements will be the primary source of life extension.
1 Director, Actuarial Science Program, and State Farm Companies Foundation Scholar in Actuarial Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The author enthusiastically thanks three anonymous referees for their insightful comments and suggestions, which not only improved this paper but provided much food for thought regarding additional research.
1 Actuarial science, of all professions, is one of the most interdisciplinary in the scope and breadth of the factors relevant to its analysis. Most actuarial explorations of enhanced longevity have, quite understandably, focused on direct financial implications for things like health care costs, retirement funding, and social security or other public policy provisions. But increased longevity has many other implications, both direct and indirect, for social and economic factors with the potential to affect the actuarial valuation of future risk contingencies.
This paper examines a variety of socioeconomic issues and implications emerging from anticipated increases in longevity. By exploring a sample of these issues, the intention is to demonstrate how complex and interrelated these issues, taken as a whole, can be. Nevertheless, to model future risks, including the parameterization of the many variables and factors involved, actuaries will need to appreciate these issues and their interactions. This is a difficult but exciting challenge and will require an understanding of the total future environment both at a holistic macro-philosophical level and at a quantitative-analytical level.
Section II of this paper provides a brief summary of the scientific and medical advances that have led us here, to the realization that significant increases to human longevity are likely imminent and, at the very least, need to be prepared for. Sections III, IV and V discuss some of the major issues resulting from this development. These issues are categorized respectively as economic, family and ethical issues. The listing of issues (and the discussion of any one issue) is not intended to be complete and thorough, but rather a sampling that demonstrates the complex thought process necessary to fully appreciate the modeling challenge. Section VI concludes and summarizes.
II. Scientific and Medical Background Over the past 100 years, expected human lifespans have increased by about 30 years—an exceptionally large increase, whether considered as an absolute number or as a percentage change. This increase has a variety of important causes: scientific and technological innovations, pharmaceutical advances (perhaps most significantly antibiotics), sanitation and general health care improvements, and some cultural factors.
2 The interesting thing about the historical increases in longevity is that they have primarily occurred at the beginning of the lifespan—infant mortality has decreased substantially (probably to the point where there is little more that can be gained, life expectancy-wise, in this area, at least in the industrialized world). Furthermore, the additional 30 years of life expectancy has not simply been “tacked on” to the retirement phase at the end of life—it has affected many aspects of how people live and corresponded to better health overall.2 The extension of life has, to some degree, been desired by most cultures. In some cases, tradition holds that eternal life was once a reality for humans but it was taken away because of one or more transgressions against god or nature.3 In some other cultural traditions and myths, there is a search or striving by mortal humans for immortality, through a traveling quest,4 through a search for an elixir of life5 or even through trickery,6 that ultimately fails,7 sometimes disastrously. Thus, in many traditions, there is an acknowledgement that striving to live beyond what humans can rightfully expect is somehow “tempting fate,” and will not end well.
Recently, there have been many books, articles and other media that have described, and prescribed, diets or other approaches to dramatically extend life. Some of these efforts have been met with a healthy skepticism.8 However—and perhaps partly because of the increasing number of such books, as well as great advances in research and medical technology—the science and biology associated with life extension recently seems to have gained considerable respect, perhaps even becoming fashionable or trendy. There are several good reasons for this.
For example, according to Duncan (2012), 2 Admittedly, there are some concerns, like obesity, that have emerged recently as potential problems that could threaten the degree to which greater longevity is achieved.
3 One interpretation of the book of Genesis, especially when supplemented by certain passages in the New Testament, is that Adam and Eve, by sinning, lost eternal life for humans and introduced death into the world.
4 In Epic of Gilgamesh, the eponymous character, grieving at the death of his companion Enkidu, seeks immortality but is unable to achieve it, and eventually realizes his mortal skills and gifts make even a finite life worth living.
5 Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China in the third century B.C., had court alchemists and physicians search for an eternal-life-giving potion, although he probably died earlier than he otherwise would have due to the presence of mercury in many of the attempted concoctions.
6 For example, in Greek mythology, Sisyphus tried to outsmart Hades and Persephone and avoid death, only to end up eternally pushing a boulder up a hill.
And we haven’t even mentioned some far more recent examples—such as Voldemort!
7 8 Holliday (2007, chapter 9) describes some of these efforts.
To Duncan’s two items one could add a third point: Over the last decade or so, evidence has accumulated that aging might not be necessary in all parts of the animal kingdom. For example, hydra seem to be virtually immortal (Kirkwood 1999). This is still a contentious issue but seems to be accepted by many.
The reference in Duncan’s second observation is primarily to calorie restriction, which some investigators have found to provide evidence of successful life-extension in certain simple animal species.9 However, other approaches involving restriction or inhibition have also been associated with life extension. For example, according to Kenyon (2011),
So there is some evidence that, at least in some animal species, it is possible to favorably affect life expectancy. But how does this potentially apply to humans? While it is difficult to do controlled laboratory studies of life extension on a relatively long-lived species like humans, certain characteristics in people have been observed to be associated with health and longevity.
For example, Friedman and Martin (2011), reporting on an eight-decade study that followed many lives, found the best early predictor of long life is “conscientiousness”—i.e., individuals being basically attentive, thorough and organized. They ascribe three reasons for the predictive nature of this trait: Conscientious people probably make better health and risk decisions, they 9 It is still very unclear whether these accomplishments have any potential applicability to humans.
So, the science of life-extension has become acceptable, progress is being made, and we can begin to identify the traits in humans that seem to be associated with longevity. What about the future? To what degree can we project successful lifespan enhancement into the future? The answer, of course, is that no one knows for sure—but there are lots of opinions, and they can vary quite substantially. For example, people like Kurzweil and Grossman and de Grey and Rae believe we are very close to achieving a precedent-shattering improvement in human lifespans.
Other commentators and researchers, while not necessarily pessimistic, are much more moderate in their projections. They anticipate continued improvements in human life expectancy but not necessarily to the degree that some have claimed for the near future. And there is even some question as to whether some of our recent demographic analyses have been
As with so much in our contemporary world, there is great volatility and uncertainty in projections of future life expectancies.
When one hears about the possibility of extreme increases in longevity, an immediate thought is often that populations—national or global—will thereby increase without bound, stretching resources to the limit and creating general discomfort, or worse. Indeed, this is a possibility— but it certainly need not be inevitable. A very simple (and highly simplified) mathematical demonstration shows this. Let P(t ) be the population at time t, let b be the birth or fertility rate per time period, and let d be the death or mortality rate per time period. Then the expected population level one time-period in the future can be expressed as
which depends upon the relationship between b and d. In particular, if the birth and death rates are not very different, the population won’t increase significantly and may even decrease. This demonstrates what we know intuitively: Population growth is significantly a function of the
Of course, the above model is meant to be merely demonstrative; it is extremely simplistic, and ignores obvious issues such as fertility and mortality rates changing over time and changes over time in the demographics of the total population (young versus fertile versus old). But the same general result holds when greater detail is considered. For example, in one recent paper several longevity scenarios were projected using a model along the lines of that employed by the World Bank.
Interestingly, this somewhat counter-intuitive result has important implications for another issue in demographics, namely the lower-than-replacement-level birth rates in many countries.
Given that increases in lifespan, to whatever degree, are a current and continuing reality, we can now consider some of the implications from such increases. Some consequences of longer human lifespans are obvious, at least at a superficial level. Other implications are very unclear 7
and debatable. The next three sections speculate on three broad types of implications:
economic, personal and ethical. Given the complexity of human societies, it is often the case that extreme consequences (either positive or negative) can result from a largely unpredictable chain or combination of causes. Actuarial science, as one of the most interdisciplinary of subjects, must consider numerous effects and their interrelationships if it wishes to accurately project the value and impact of future contingencies related to expected lifetimes.
III. Economic and Financial Implications of Increased Longevity Much of the discussion of the impact of increased longevity has involved the effects on pensions and retirement funding. This is appropriate: The most direct consequence of longer lifespans is the potential drain on funds collected presuming retirement years would on average be shorter than they will turn out to be.
In this section, we explore not only this issue (briefly), but other possible economic and financial implications that may stem from recent and future increases in human longevity.
Murphy and Topel (2005) address the broad economic implications and importance of increases in longevity.
A. Pensions and Retirement How will increased longevity impact the financial condition of pension plans? Indeed, how will the entire structure of retirement—age and length of retirement, activities during retirement—be affected?