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A number of studies in different countries show that when people are asked “how long would you like to live?”, they respond with a figure equal to or slightly higher than the current life expectancy in a given country[1-4]. So, why does the public often lack enthusiasm for longevity?

These studies have shown that, generally, the public is uninterested in living longer than normal because they believe that these extra years will be spent suffering from the illnesses of old age. This is why the public often reacts to words like ‘longevity’ this way; to them, ten extra years likely means a decade spent in a wheelchair or some other decrepit state robbed of independence and health.

Asking the right question is important if you want the right answer

We have touched upon this topic before in a previous article, and the conclusion is the same; when asking people about living longer, it is essential to frame the question properly so that a considered response with all the facts can be made. When talking about longevity, it is critical to ask the right question and use the right language.

In a recent study, when it was made clear that continued physical and mental health would accompany these extra years, the responses were generally more favorable towards living longer[5]. In this study in particular, people even changed their responses to support longer life when it was made clear that continued mental and physical health would be part of that extra time.

We surveyed 1000 individuals (through “Ask Your Target Market”) about how long they wished to live (to age 85, 120, 150, or indefinitely), under 3 scenarios: (1) sustained mental and physical youthfulness, (2) mental youthfulness only, (3) physical youthfulness only. While responses to the two partial youthfulness conditions recapitulated the results of previous surveys (Cicirelli, 2011; Kogan et al., 2011; Partridge et al., 2011; Duncan, 2012; Pew Research Center, 2013), i.e., most responders (65.3%) wished to live to age 85 only—under scenario (1) the pattern of responses was completely different. When guaranteed mental and physical health, 797 of 1000 people wanted to live to 120 or longer, and 53.1% of the 797 desired unlimited life spans. Furthermore, 70.1% of the people who responded 85 to scenario (2) or (3) changed their answer to 120 or longer in scenario (1).

A new study once again suggests asking the right question is critical

Today, we see yet more vindication of this in a new study by researchers from the University of Kansas[6]. The team asked ninety elders in China, Germany, and the U.S. about their ideal lifespans.

A larger number of respondents did mention they wanted to extend their lives. Yet less than half of that group noted a specific amount of time they desired to live.

The strongest opinion among that group was the desire to live longer only if they maintained their current or what they deemed to be acceptable levels of health.

Source: KU

Conclusion

Once again, we can see that continued health is very much a proviso of continued longevity. This is a perfectly understandable reaction, and it is fortunate that rejuvenation biotechnology has the same goal: to prevent age-related diseases by targeting the aging processes, thus offering people longer and healthier lives.

Ultimately, the right question to ask is “Would you want to live longer if your continued health is guaranteed for those additional years?” People are generally more supportive of the idea if they know that those extra years will be good years, and most of us really want to be healthy enough to enjoy life.

Literature

[1] Lang, F. R., Baltes, P. B., & Wagner, G. G. (2007). Desired lifetime and end-of-life desires across adulthood from 20 to 90: A dual-source information model. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 62(5), P268-P276.

[2] Lugo, L., Cooperman, A., & Funk, C. (2013). Living to 120 and Beyond: Americans’ Views on Aging, Medical Advances, and Radical Life Extension. Pew Research Center, August, 6. URL: https://www.pewforum.org/2013/08/06/living-to-120-and-beyond-americans-views-on-aging-medical-advances-and-radical-life-extension/

[3] CARP Radical Life Extension Poll Report (2013). URL: https://www.carp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Life-Extension-Poll-Report.pdf

[4] Financial University of the Government of the Russian Federation, Sociology Faculty (2015). Most of Russians want to live up to 80 years only. (Bol’shinstvo rossijan hochet dozhit’ tol’ko do 80 let). URL: https://www.fa.ru/chair/priklsoc/Documents/24_Life_Expectancy_2015.pdf

[5] Donner, Y., Fortney, K., Calimport, S. R., Pfleger, K., Shah, M., & Betts-LaCroix, J. (2016). Great desire for extended life and health amongst the American public. Frontiers in genetics, 6, 353.

[6] Ekerdt, D. J., Koss, C. S., Li, A., Münch, A., Lessenich, S., & Fung, H. H. (2017). Is longevity a value for older adults?. Journal of Aging Studies, 43, 46-52.

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About the author

Steve Hill

As a scientific writer and a devoted advocate of healthy longevity and the technologies to promote them, Steve has provided the community with hundreds of educational articles, interviews, and podcasts, helping the general public to better understand aging and the means to modify its dynamics. His materials can be found at H+ Magazine, Longevity reporter, Psychology Today and Singularity Weblog. He is a co-author of the book “Aging Prevention for All” – a guide for the general public exploring evidence-based means to extend healthy life (in press).
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