Posted on 5 August 2020
The aim of developing therapies and drugs that significantly extend healthy human lifespan is becoming more and more attainable. Our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the ageing process is growing, and serious attempts are being made to target these mechanisms in order to slow ageing in humans. In simple organisms, we have already succeeded.
A future is conceivable in which human lifespan may significantly exceed what it is today. Yet whenever the topic of human lifespan extension is broached, one concern always seems to be raised – a potential repercussion of longevity technology that is usually the first to come to mind: ”If people age more slowly, won’t the world become overpopulated?”
While lifespan extension certainly won’t shrink the population, this line of thinking overlooks the fact that birth rates have fallen significantly over the past half-century, a trend likely to continue. According to current predictions, world population will peak in 2064 at 9.7 billion, before falling back down to 8.8 billion by the end of the century. The larger imminent problem might not be overpopulation, but rather population ageing.
There were 703 million people aged 65 years or over in 2019, and this number is projected to double to around 1.5 billion in 2050. At first glance, one might think that increasing human longevity might exacerbate this problem. On the contrary, however, anti-ageing technology may be the key to solving it.
The challenge we are facing is that the world’s age structure is slowly shifting – as the elderly population grows and requires increasing support, the younger population that is able to provide this support declines. Longevity technology may solve this problem by extending healthy lifespan, preventing or delaying the onset of chronic diseases of ageing. The hope is that if we can make a 70 year-old body behave like a 60 year-old one, this will essentially counterbalance the increase in the proportion of 70 year-olds.
This is by no means a simple or easy task, but it isn’t one we should be dissuaded from for fear of overpopulation.
United Nations World Department of Economic and Social Affairs - Population Ageing: 2019:https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/ageing/WorldPopulationAgeing2019-Highlights.pdf
Fertility rate: 'Jaw-dropping' global crash in children being born: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53409521