Old World

We live in an old world. In 1800, the average life expectancy at birth was twenty-nine years.

The global average now is 72.2 years, well over double that number. But the power of averages is limited—no one ever got rich on an average wage, and the disenfranchised take little comfort from it.

Statistics have in some ways displaced thought, which is why they should be taken with a large pinch of salt. I’m not speaking about errors in calculation—though they occur, both through accident and deliberation—my concern is about what statistics hide.

Europe has the oldest people in the world—that’s a statistic—we’re not talking about the oldest person, but the median age.

An infographic from visualcapitalist.com (catchy name), shows human age distribution worldwide.

Monaco, full of elderly tax dodgers, has the highest median value, but overall, Europe is double Africa.

The European situation attests to low birth rates, excellent health care, and low immigration—despite what populist movements would have us believe. The US is a younger nation, but much of that is because of the increasing Hispanic population, currently fifty-two million people, or 16.7% of the country.

Statistics obscure (or synthesize, for all you optimists) data in both time and space—a spatial breakdown indicates that the four states which border Mexico all have 30% or more Latinos, double the national average.

Ageing populations have consequences, the first of which is that humans enjoy a longer life (duh)—society is better able to take care of its own.

That change in longevity came about pretty quickly—nothing happened for four hundred years, and suddenly… badaboom!

The way we were… Changes in life expectancy are a product of three generations: the greatest, the silent, and the baby boomers (graph adapted from ourworldindata.org)

The most remarkable change was for the baby boomers, because there was a rapid increase in both population and life expectancy. In the West, baby boomers are privileged when compared to the generations that followed them—their per capita GDP increased significantly, many people were able to buy homes, and the increase in life expectancy was not rewarded by an increase in retirement age.

The downsides were also interesting. A batch of new diseases became the worry of the late century, including breast and prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, and chronic vascular conditions. These became health challenges as the life-threatening problems of the past were conquered through antibiotics, vaccination, early diagnosis, and cutting-edge surgery, if you excuse the pun.

Care for the elderly became a worry, then a business—today it’s spawned a world of euphemisms, from assisted living, to retirement, senior, and (God forbid) old people’s homes.

I visited one last week, a little wary of what I might find. I was told that old people, like children, need tenderness and love—we all do, of course, but I can relate—at the more delicate stages of life, such things are all-important. If you live alone after a certain age, surrounded by memories of those you love—many of whom you’ve parted with—you may well be better off in company.

European cities are full of elderly people whose life is four walls and endless days—folks with stories to tell, and most importantly, lessons to teach. Western business discards its elderly with glee, and governments are hard-pressed to address the social consequences.

Many countries now place the retirement age in a bracket between ages 65 and 67, but the systems are collapsing anyhow. Projected increases to the age of seventy-five won’t solve the funding deficit—but that’s a prospect forty year olds face now.

As I browsed for data, a targeted ad came up for Ukranian women. The German site advertises im osten geht die lieber auf, which Google translates as ‘in the east, they prefer to go.’

Well, that certainly put the cat among the pigeons! I have now further understood that…

If you are looking for a fulfilling relationship with a woman from Eastern Europe, you are in the right place. In addition to Russian women, Ukrainian women account for a large proportion of the ladies registered with us. Like other Eastern European women, women from Ukraine differ in many ways from Western European women and exert an incredible fascination for men through their special charm.

I am still bemused by where, how, when, or even why ‘they prefer to go’, and am now further intrigued by ‘their special charm.’ Gruβ Gott, the stuff you come across when you’re writing a God-fearin’ blog on a Sunday morning!

The issue of retirement age is predicated on the support base of the pension system—it was calculated on a static basis for a moveable reference frame, which would never work. Such models must include predictions of changes in employment, wage structure, economic growth, globalization, immigration, birth rate, mortality, and lifespan.

Is your job at risk? If so, chances are you’ll ‘retire’ much earlier than planned.

At least half of the variables in the model above (all the economic ones) are unpredictable at the timescales of interest—generational. The risk profile of many job categories (so many others are already gone) makes the analysis all the more uncertain—the notion that policy-makers and politicians can accurately balance budgets predicated on changes to retirement age, fine-tuned to two decimal points, beggars belief.

From the point of view of societal sustainability, retirement and unemployment are the same thing. This discussion is at the core of my new book, ‘The Hourglass’, due out in 2020.

But the lesson I learned on my visit was simple—to take care of the elderly and the infirm, all you need is love.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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