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The long range

It was Woody Allen who said “I recently turned 60. Practically a third of my life is over.” Far-fetched maybe but not an impossible dream. I have become a little obsessed by longevity of late – maybe it’s my age. But the more I have researched the subject, the more intrigued I’ve become.

Consider the following:

  • According to Government statistics, next year there will be 12,000 people aged 100 or over. By 2050, the number will have increased to 250,000.
  • Recent research published in the Lancet predicted that half the babies born in the UK in 2007 will live to at least 103 and in Japan the equivalent is 107. l An ongoing study conducted at Newcastle University suggests that in the UK the population of over-85s, the fastest growing segment of our population, will increase by a third by 2020.
  • UN forecasts project that the proportion of the world’s population that are over 60 will grow from just under 11 per cent today to 22 per cent by 2050 and at the same time the world’s population will have grown from 6.9 billion to over nine billion.

These and similar facts are frightening. What’s more, as the medics and scientists make progress, particularly on the influence of genetics on longevity, the above could turn out to be underestimates. The potential impacts globally, nationally and individually are profound.

At an academic conference on the subject last year, the conference chairman said “population ageing is likely to have at least as great an impact on how we live our lives and on how societies will operate in the future as the better recognised effects of climate change, globalisation and terrorism”. And yet governments continue to largely ignore the subject, partly because the issues are economically too significant and socially damaging.

There is an urgent need for education. In a recent survey, pension professionals on average underestimated the likely longevity of groups of the population by five years. What hope for the less informed? The financial and other impacts of underestimating longevity on this scale are huge. No longer will it be necessary to rely on Woody Allen’s claim that “you can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100.”

Advisers can help by talking to their clients and encouraging them to discuss the potential impacts with other family members. I expect to see more technology aids and website material developed in the coming months but that will really only scratch the surface. It is a huge subject and there is a lot of work to be done and the lead has to come from Government.

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