Several developments in the areas of science and medicine indicate that a significant rise in human life-expectancy will be possible in the coming decades, bringing with it major changes in the organizational and logistical landscapes of society, government and industry.
If investments can develop new therapies to allow people to live healthier lives much longer than they already do, the effects could be far reaching and potentially paradigmatically disruptive. Currently, aging individuals are capable of planning for their golden years—economically, socially, emotionally—according to a reasonable guess at their lifespan. However, such therapies could derail these plans and unexpectedly leave aging individuals with fewer choices.
The most immediate effects for organizations will likely be in the insurance sector and the pension system. The term “longevity risk” refers to the potential risks associated with the increasing life expectancy of pensioners and policy holders, which can translate into higher pay-out-ratios. The magnitude of potential losses from longevity risk is expected to soar sharply with these medical improvements, but baseline scenarios may prove to be underestimated within decades.
Increasing healthy human lifespans also suggests that workers will not be forced to retire due to a general decrease in work productivity that comes with age-associated ill-health. The retirement age will need to increase dramatically in tandem with increasing human life-expectancy, thereby decreasing longevity risk and raising the income for those able to work later in life. If organizations in general keep an attentive eye on rising life-expectancy, they can better gauge the capabilities and expectations of both their workforce and their customer base.
What is changing?
Projections indicate significant growth in the elderly population. The global population of people aged 65+ has risen globally from 131 million in 1950 to 523 million in 2010 and is expected to reach 714 million by 2020 and as high as 1,350 Million in 2050. The effects are being seen in the healthcare industry. Experts have estimated the costs in the US for Alzheimer’s disease to increase from $80-100 billion with 4 million patients diagnosed in 2006 to more than $1 trillion with 16 million patients diagnosed by 2050.
Life-extension therapies that can comprehensively forestall the age-associated diseases may be the safest bet for avoiding the massive economic pressure caused by the dramatic rise in the elderly population and the corresponding rise in social security and healthcare expenditures. Experts have estimated that the costs saved across all of healthcare by even a modest 10% reduction in mortality would be roughly $10 trillion. Due to the anticipated increases in the elderly population, life-extension therapies and progress in medical science will constitute one of the largest and most lucrative investment sectors in the coming decades. Healthcare in the US is expected to double from $3 trillion last year to $6 trillion by 2025. And as the Silver Tsunami, the multitude of retiring Baby Boomers, continues to sweep through many of the developed nations, a great deal of interest and investment is being channeled straight toward studying human longevity.
Several rejuvenative medicine companies have attracted large investments from big names—particularly tech giants such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook who has contributed to the Breakthough Prize in Life Sciences, Peter Thiel of PayPal who invested in the Methuselah Foundation and Google’s more recent funding for Calico, California Life Company. Calico will reportedly tackle aging and the prevention of age-related diseases, and many commentators have suggested big data strategies will lead the way. Larry Page, the C.E.O of Google Inc., has described projects and ventures like these as “moon-shots,” stating that Google is investing in such high-risk, high-gain ventures because other companies are not, and everyone will remember if Google changed the world for the better in a dramatic way. Great concentrations of human intelligence and funding have proven to cause great scientific strides in the past, and the next few decades may well hold practical applications that could extend the average human lifespan beyond current estimations.
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