Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Can we afford to live longer?
We're living longer than ever, but few of us will save enough to afford this historical boon.
- A person reaching 65 today can expect to live into their mid-80s, many into their 90s.
- A 30-year retirement requires a nest egg of more than $1 million, yet 77 percent of American households fall short of such savings and investments.
- Experts recommend several strategies for affording a longer life, such as pushing the retirement age back to at least 70.
If you are reading this, you are one of humanity's lucky few. You and your cohorts will live longer than any previous generation. Ever.
Estimates of pre-modern peoples put the average life expectancy at roughly 30. That's for all peoples the world over. That average began to rise steadily by the Age of the Enlightenment, and since 1900, the global average has soared to more than 70 years.
Today, the country with the lowest life expectancy, the Central African Republic, has nearly doubled pre-modern standards. Meanwhile, developed countries such as Japan, Spain, and Canada have pushed their averages into the 80s.
On its own, this is an incredible achievement for humanity, and science and technology may continue this uplifting trend to help us live even longer. In an interview with Big Think, Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof, said he believes he'll live to at least a 180 years old. (Just look both ways when crossing the street, Mr. Asprey.)
But Mr. Asprey is an independently wealthy entrepreneur, who claims to have spent north of a $1 million biohacking his health. Can the rest of us afford to be so enduring?
Retirement: an idea whose time has come
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law.
Retirement is a modern idea. To our ancestors, the thought that you could spend your twilight years enjoying hobbies, travel, and Country Kitchen buffets was untenable. Unless you belonged to society's upper echelon, you worked, you grew sick, and then you died with precious few moments of leisure between.
There were a few exceptions, such as pensions for soldiers, but it wasn't until the late 19th century that change began on a large scale.
In 1889, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced modern pensions. American Express offered the U.S.'s first employer-provided retirement plan, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad created the first joint-contribution plan. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, and a provision in the 1978 Revenue Act gave birth to the 401(k).
The problem is that our mentality surrounding retirement planning hasn't kept pace with our hard-won longevity. It remains based on calculations and assumptions we formed when people died younger. Retirements newly protracted costs mean many of us may not be able to pay. At least not comfortably.
The higher costs of longer living
According to the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), an American man reaching 65 today can expect to live until he is 84, women until 86.5. But the SSA points out that these are averages. One out of every three 65-year-olds will live past 90, while one in seven will surpass 95.
So, Americans who retire on their 67th birthdays, maintain their health, and remember to look both ways when crossing the street have decent odds to live about a third of their lives in retirement. Again, our ancestors couldn't even imagine such recompense.
Dan Yu, the managing principal at Hillcrest Wealth Advisors, told AARP that many factors go into determining an acceptable nest egg, such as health, where you live, and your desired retirement lifestyle. However, conventional wisdom is to save 10 to 12 times your current income.
Here's one scenario: a household would need roughly $1.5 million to support a 30-year retirement at $50,000 a year. That's assuming interest rates stay relatively steady and inflation doesn't balloon.
But mercurial interest rates and bloating inflation aren't a retiree's only concerns. High administrative and management fees devour 401(k) earnings. Most of the benefits flow to the top fifth of earners, leaving households in the bottom half to salvage for the 4 percent of scraps that fall their way.
And some lack even scraps. According to a 2018 report by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), more than 100 million working-age Americans don't own any retirement account assets and the median retirement account balance for all working Americans is zero. If we include Americans who do have saving assets, a staggering 77 percent fall short of "conservative" saving targets. (Though, some commentators believe the NIRS's saving targets are more excessive than moderate.)
Preparing for your (hopefully) long life
None of this is to say we can't afford retirement or that we need to return to an era where working life immediately precedes the grave. But we will have to begin rethinking how we approach and enjoy retirement.
Be prepared to retire later. People working today should plan to shift their retirement past their 60s and into their 70s. The longer you work, the more money you can earn without dipping into your retirement assets. A report from the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Society of Actuaries analyzed different income plans. It found that a couple who waited until 70 to retire would earn nearly twice the annual income than if they completely retired at 62.
"Most older workers will fall short of commonly recommended retirement income targets, unless they can work in some manner into their late 60s or 70s," the researchers write. "Otherwise, they might need to learn how to live on reduced spendable income compared to their working years."
Begin saving now. If inflation is the eternal enemy of retirees, then compound interest is their patron saint. If someone invests $5,000 dollars a year between the ages of 25 and 35 and then stops, their $50,000 investment will equal roughly $600,000 by age 65 (assuming a 7 percent annual return). If someone else invests the same amount annually between 35 and 65, their $150,000 investment will amount to $550,000.
The earlier one starts investing, the greater their accumulated total will be. (The above example is from JP Morgan Asset Management; you can find a handy graph illustrating the difference here.)
Plan for more life than you think. Dan Yu advises saving 100 percent of preretirement income for at least the first 10 years. While some may recommend 70–80 percent, Yu points out that spending doesn't slow down in early retirement as people tend to enjoy niceties such as travel.
Live a healthy life. Health care starts long before you reach the hospital, and that's especially true for your golden years. Staying healthy reduces your risk of expensive illnesses, such as coronary heart disease, and injuries, such as fractured bones from falls. And the longer you can live independently, the less money you'll need to pay out for assisted-living care.
True, healthy people who live into their 90s will, in the long run, pay more in medical expenses than sick people who die in their 70s. But as the adage goes, you get what you pay for.
Consider an HSA. Speaking of health, a health saving account (HSA) allows you to set aside pre-tax money to pay for qualify medical expenses later. These funds can be used to pay for deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and other expenses. Funds roll over year after year, and you may earn interest.
"Most financial advisers stand to make nothing on an HAS," Jeff Vollmer, managing partner at Hyde Park Wealth Management, told Time, "so it's generally not something that goes into their financial-plan recommendations."
Keep up-to-date on technology. Your retirement savings will take a major hit if you can no longer live independently. But big tech's move into health care may provide ways to assist retirees in living more independent and more comfortably for longer. Telemedicine, for example, could help retirees by offering remote-patient monitoring tools and allowing them to communicate with medical practitioners more easily.
It may go without saying, but let's say it anyway: These are just a few things to consider when planning your retirement, not a roadmap to affording the retirement of your dreams. To determine what approach works best for you, do your research and seek the advice of a financial advisor whom you trust.
We all won't live to be 90, let alone 180. But if we plan properly, we can at least enjoy this gift — this longevity boon — of the modern age.
- How the Mediterranean diet can help you live longer and think better ... ›
- Yale Study: People Who Read Live Longer Than Those Who Don't ... ›
A new paper reveals that the Voyager 1 spacecraft detected a constant hum coming from outside our Solar System.
- Voyager 1, humankind's most distant space probe, detected an unusual "hum" in the data from interstellar space.
- The noise is likely produced by interstellar gas.
- Further investigation may reveal the hum's exact origins.
Voyager 1, humanity's most faraway spacecraft, has detected an unusual "hum" coming from outside our solar system. Fourteen billion miles away from Earth, the Voyager's instruments picked up a droning sound that may be caused by plasma (ionized gas) in the vast emptiness of interstellar space. Launched in 1977, the Voyager 1 space probe — along with its twin Voyager 2 — has been traveling farther and farther into space for over 44 years. It has now breached the edge of our solar system, exiting the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space influenced by the sun. Now, the spacecraft is moving through the "interstellar medium," where it recorded the peculiar sound.
Stella Koch Ocker, a doctoral student in astronomy at Cornell University, discovered the sound in the data from the Voyager's Plasma Wave System (PWS), which measures electron density. Ocker called the drone coming from plasma shock waves "very faint and monotone," likely due to the narrow bandwidth of its frequency.
While they think the persistent background hum may be coming from interstellar gas, the researchers don't yet know what exactly is causing it. It might be produced by "thermally excited plasma oscillations and quasi-thermal noise."
The new paper from Ocker and her colleagues at Cornell University and the University of Iowa, published in Nature Astronomy, also proposes that this is not the last we'll hear of the strange noise. The scientists write that "the emission's persistence suggests that Voyager 1 may be able to continue tracking the interstellar plasma density in the absence of shock-generated plasma oscillation events."
Voyager Captures Sounds of Interstellar Space www.youtube.com
The researchers think the droning sound may hold clues to how interstellar space and the heliopause, which can be thought of as the solar's system border, may be affecting each other. When it first entered interstellar space, the PWS instrument reported disturbances in the gas caused by the sun. But in between such eruptions is where the researchers spotted the steady signature made by the near-vacuum.
Senior author James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell, compared the interstellar medium to "a quiet or gentle rain," adding that "in the case of a solar outburst, it's like detecting a lightning burst in a thunderstorm and then it's back to a gentle rain."
More data from Voyager over the next few years may hold crucial information to the origins of the hum. The findings are already remarkable considering the space probe is functioning on technology from the mid-1970s. The craft has about 70 kilobytes of computer memory. It also carries a Golden Record created by a committee chaired by the late Carl Sagan, who taught at Cornell University. The 12-inch gold-plated copper disk record is essentially a time capsule, meant to tell the story of Earthlings to extraterrestrials. It contains sounds and images that showcase the diversity of Earth's life and culture.
As the American population grows, fewer people will die of cancer.
- A new study projects that cancer deaths will decrease in relative and absolute terms by 2040.
- The biggest decrease will be among lung cancer deaths, which are predicted to fall by 50 percent.
- Cancer is like terrorism: we cannot eliminate it entirely, but we can minimize its influence.
As the #2 leading cause of death, cancer takes the lives of about 600,000 Americans each year. In comparison, heart disease (#1) claims more than 650,000 lives, while accidents (#3) take about 175,000 lives. (In 2020 and likely 2021, COVID will claim the #3 spot.)
Headlines are usually full of terrible news about cancer. Seemingly, you can't get away from anything that causes it. RealClearScience made a list of all the things blamed for cancer — antiperspirants, salty soup, eggs, corn, Pringles, bras, burnt toast, and even Facebook made the list.
The reality, however, is much more optimistic. We're slowly but surely winning the war on cancer.
Winning the war on cancer
How can we make such a brazen statement? A new paper published in the journal JAMA Network Open tracks trends in cancer incidence and deaths and makes projections to the year 2040. The authors predict that around 568,000 Americans will have died of cancer in 2020, but they project that number to fall to 410,000 by 2040. That's a drop of nearly 28 percent, despite the U.S. population being projected to grow from roughly 333 million today to 374 million in 2040, an increase of 12 percent. That means cancer deaths will decrease in both relative and absolute terms.
What accounts for this unexpected good news? The lion's share is the number of deaths attributable to lung cancer, which is projected to decrease by more than 50 percent, from 130,000 to 63,000. This drop is largely due to the decreasing use of tobacco products. Other deaths predicted to decline include those from colorectal, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers, among others, such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
The authors credit screening and biomedical advances for saving many of these lives. For instance, lead author Dr. Lola Rahib wrote in an email to Big Think that "colonoscopies remove precancerous polyps." She also noted that targeted therapies and immunotherapies have helped reduce the number of deaths from leukemia and NHL.
We'll never cure cancer
Now the bad news: We'll never cure cancer. There are at least three reasons for this. The first is obvious: We all die. The lifetime prevalence of death is 100 percent. The truth is that we are running out of things to die from. After a long enough period of time, something gives out — often your cardiovascular system or nervous system. Or you develop you cancer.
The second reason is that we are multicellular organisms and, hence, we are susceptible to cancer. (Contrary to popular myth, sharks get cancer, too.) The cells of multicellular organisms face an existential dilemma: they can either get old and stop dividing (a process called senescence) or become immortal but cancerous. For this reason, the problem of cancer may not have a solution.
Finally, there isn't really such a thing as a disease called "cancer." What we call cancer is actually a collection of several different diseases, some of which are preventable (like cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine) or curable (like prostate cancer). Unfortunately, some cancers probably never will be curable, not least because cancers can mutate and develop resistance to the drugs we use to treat them.
But the overall optimism still stands: We are slowly and incrementally winning the war on cancer. Like terrorism, it's not a foe that we can completely vanquish, but it is one whose influence we can minimize in our lives.
China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.
But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.
Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.
If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.
If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.
Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.
According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.
The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.
But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.
Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.
Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.
We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.
Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).
With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.