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Tom Purcell: The downside to living so long

July 24, 2018

Boy, are Americans getting old.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age -- the age at which half of the population is older and half is younger -- hit an all-time high of 38.0 in 2017.

Why is it rising? Because our massive baby-boom generation continues to go geezer, while young moms and dads are having way fewer kids than American parents used to.

What’s more interesting is that the number of Americans who were 100 years or older also hit a record in 2017 -- a number that is poised to explode.

According to the World Future Society, we are in the early phases of a superlongevity revolution. Thanks to advances in nanotechnology and cell and gene manipulation, scientists may eventually learn how to keep humans alive for 120 to 500 years.

Though it’s great that Americans are living longer, I’m not sure I’d ever want to live THAT long.

Look, I’m 56, a tail-end baby boomer. If I was confident I’d be vibrant and healthy for another 44 years, I might finally get around to marrying and starting a family!

My parents are of the silent generation. They’re in in their 80s. I’d love for them to live well beyond 100, so that I can enjoy their company at Sunday dinners for another 20 years or more.

But there are downsides to living so long.

Healthcare costs are already out of control, and the majority of that spending goes to the elderly. Such costs may become unmanageable as our median age keeps climbing.

If we live 100 years or more, how are we going to pay for it? Living is expensive. Are we going to work 50 years, retire, burn through our nest eggs, then spend 20 or 30 years greeting customers at Walmart?

And what of our younger generations, kids who are notorious slackers? Mother to son in year 2075: “You’re 100 years old!When are you going to move out and get a job?”

Four years shy of 60, I’m already showing signs of fatigue. I don’t know when it started, but, like my elderly father, I groan every time I slowly pull myself out of a chair.

Sure, the “primitive male” part of me thinks I could still handle myself if a bar brawl were to break out -- but I’d have to do 30 minutes of jumping jacks before I could even think about participating.

Besides, in my experience, life is largely made up of colds, bills, speeding tickets and people who let you down. These experiences are connected together by a series of mundane tasks. The drudgeries are occasionally interrupted by a wonderful meal, a really good laugh or a romantic evening with a lovely lady. Then the mundane stuff starts all over again.

I don’t think I want 500 years of that.

At 56, you see, it seems to me that the key to human happiness is not an abundance of a thing, but a lack of it.

Doesn’t pie taste better when we know it’s the last slice? Doesn’t a football game capture our attention more when it’s the last of the season -- the one that determines who goes out the winner and who goes out the loser? Isn’t a comedian funnier when he exits the stage BEFORE we want him to go?

Besides, if I were to live to 500, I’d have to endure 111 more presidential elections -- a punishment I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!

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