The socioeconomics of human longevity

Paul Raven @ 05-10-2009

generationsAlmost as if they timed it to coincide with the just-finished Singularity Summit, a group of medical researchers published a paper last week in the prestigious journal The Lancet which shows that life expectancy in Western nations is increasing steadily, alongside quality of life in those later years. The trend shows no signs of levelling off any time soon, leading other ageing experts to hypothesise that there may be no intrinsic cap on the human lifespan. [via NextBigFuture; image by technowannabe]

The Guardian picked up the same press release and ran with it, providing us with the increasingly common spectacle of regular journalists and scientists engaging in science fictional speculation:

Life expectancy is increasing so fast that half the babies born in 2007 will live to be at least 103, while half the Japanese babies born in the same year will reach the age of 107.

The bad news is that the ageing populations of rich countries such as the UK threaten to unbalance the population. It “poses severe challenges for the traditional social welfare state,” write Christensen and colleagues.

But they have a radical solution: young and old should work fewer hours a week. Over a lifetime, we would all spend the same total amount of time at work as we do now, but spread out over the years.

“The 20th century was a century of redistribution of income. The 21st century could be a century of redistribution of work,” they write. “Redistribution would spread work more evenly across populations and over the ages of life. Individuals could combine work, education, leisure and child rearing in varying amounts at different ages.”

It is a theory that is beginning to receive “some preliminary attention”, the authors say, citing a study in the Science journal three years ago which suggested that shorter working weeks would help young people and increase western Europe’s flagging birth rate.

Shorter working weeks might further increase health and life expectancy, Christensen and colleagues write. But redistribution of work will not solve all the problems caused by a society with a large number of very old people. Beyond a certain point, the old will need younger people to look after them – although technology is likely to provide some help in advanced countries such as the UK.

The four-day week idea has been growing in strength ever since the markets nosedived about a year ago, and experiments indicate that it has lots of beneficial effects for both workers and their employers.

But once again we’re back to the issue of greying populations and sustainable reproductive rates, which looks like its going to be the meme of the season… thanks in no small part to the US healthcare debate, which – if you ignore the hot-air rhetoric and obfuscation on all sides – is largely about finding a fair way for the increasing number of elderly citizens to be supported by a diminishing number of younger workers. We’ve got no cause to feel smug on this side of the pond, either; free healthcare may be commonplace in Europe already, but it’s going to be just as stretched by demographic shifts as it will be in the States.


Are religious skeptics bound for demographic doom?

Edward Willett @ 05-03-2009

fertility goddess In science fiction, there has long been an assumption (not present in all stories, but certainly present in many) that in the future religion will have been consigned to the dustbin of history; that it simply cannot continue to withstand the onslaught of scientific evidence against the existence of a deity.

Demographically, however, it is the believers who have the edge, at least in the U.S. Drawing on data from the General Social Survey, “widely regarded as the single best source of data on societal trends,” blogger The Audacious Epigone notes that believers out-breed non-believers (Via FuturePundit):

From GSS data, I looked at the reported ideal family size* and the actual number of children had, by theistic confidence, among those who had essentially completed their total fertility (age 40-100):

Theistic confidence Desired Actual
Don’t believe 2.26 2.23
No way to find out 2.25 1.95
Some higher power 2.18 1.98
Believe sometimes 2.37 2.34
Believe with doubts 2.34 2.31
Know God exists 2.58 2.64

He also finds among younger people, between the ages of 18-30, the number of children desired is also higher among those who “Know God exists” than any of the other categories, and says:

It is not that secular people cannot keep up with religious folks. They simply do not want to. In the numbers game, though, the results are what matter. The question regarding Steve Sailer’s suggestion that the future may belong to groups who are able to procreate the most is whether or not secularizing social trends are able to overcompensate for greater fertility among the religious.

Does the future, then, belong to believers, or will secular society suck the religion out of their children’s souls before they themselves grow old enough to breed? And how would/should this demographic data impact the fictional futures of SF writers?

(Image: Goddess of Fertility, Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, Ankara, Turkey, via Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]religion,atheism,demographics,population[/tags]


Some cheering statistics on reading, literacy and the intertubes

Paul Raven @ 13-01-2009

girl reading a bookHere’s some cheery news to balance out the doom’n’gloom of publishing industry lay-offs and bookstore chain incompetence. According to a report from the United States National Endowment for the Arts, 84% of readers who read material online or downloaded from the web are still reading printed books, and furthermore the absolute number of literature readers in the US has grown by 16.6million; this is the first increase in over two decades, and reflects a rise much greater than simple population expansion. Something to smile about, no? [via Mediabistro/Galleycat; image by shaycam]


All mediums are equal – an end to science fiction tribalism

Jonathan McCalmont @ 20-08-2008

Another month, another inadequate pay-cheque. More empty days and suffocating nights alleviated only by cheap hooch, regrettable takeaways and the occasional all-too-brief orgasm. This is your life… and this is the return of Blasphemous Geometries.

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

The critical language of science fiction is balkanised according to the media form which the work being discussed belongs. Jonathan McCalmont suggests it is the critic’s place to encourage a merging of genre’s disparate media tribes. Continue reading “All mediums are equal – an end to science fiction tribalism”


Reinventing the Top 40 music chart

Paul Raven @ 07-08-2008

Red vinyl record on a turntableOne of the biggest cultural gaps between me as a teenager in the nineties and my parents was our understanding of how music worked as a diverse cultural landscape. To them, the Top 40 charts told you what was best, what was universally popular. To me, the same chart was a pretty good guide to what a certain demographic thought was best – a deluded demographic that certainly didn’t include me. Ah, the arrogance of youth… [image by Jono Rotten]

And this was long before ripping and burning, iTunes, Napster and MySpace, of course. So little wonder, then, that you can count the number of people who find the old-fashioned chart run-downs relevant on the fingers of one hand. Stepping into the void are IBM and the BBC, with a plan to make music stats more detailed, accurate and interesting to individuals with different tastes. Take it away, TechDirt:

Rather than assuming there’s just one single chart to rule them all, the system lets you create custom lists for a better understanding of more niche-targeted music. So, say, if you wanted to know who’s hot on YouTube and Last.fm in the indie and punk worlds among US listeners between the ages of 20 and 30, you can create just that list. Or, as per Will’s suggestion, you could find out what female Emo fans between the age of 15 and 20 are talking about on Bebo — and get that list.

Technologically this is just another web2.0 data mash-up, but I think it’s interesting from a cultural point of view because it derails the still-common complaint that the world is developing into a homogeneous monoculture, and demonstrates that narrowcast media like the internet encourages diversity rather than suppressing it.

Of course, you could argue that the tribal nature of music fandom is symptomatic of a Balkanisation of culture, in much the same way as genre fiction fandom… in which case we should probably go to a gig together and have a very drunken argument about it. 😉


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