Bird Dog writes me with a correction to my statement that even the poorest today enjoy much longer life spans than folks 100 years ago. He writes:
In the past, average life span was short, due to infant and childhood
mortality, and young adult mortality, due to infectious disease. It's a
statistical error, really.There was a bi-modal mortality, peaking in the early teens, and again
in old age. Infant mortality was high. That youth mortality has been
eliminated by antibiotics, so we no longer have a bimodal mortality graph. But
that youth mortality falsifies the historical averages, giving the
appearance of a lower life span than today..
That is a valid point. Of course, the much longer average life span has meaning, just not in the exact way I implied. In a previous article, I formulated this difference more carefully, and in a way I think is consistent with Bird Dog's observation:
1) A hundred years ago, you would have been more likely, by an order of magnitude, to see at least one of your kids die. Even in my father's generation (born in 1922) it is unusual to find anyone who did not lose a brother or sister young, as both my mom and my dad did.
2) Many people from centuries past lived as long as we today might expect. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams all lived to ages we would even today call "old". However, I would venture that most of these folks' lives in their last ten or twenty years was of much lower quality than our lives at these ages today. We may not live much longer, but our last 10-20 years are much more enjoyable. My father-in-law was biking and white-water kayaking in his seventies right up to his untimely death in a car accident. Among other things, teeth, eyes, and joints are all body parts that tend to fail in a non-terminal manner. We can fix many of the age-induced problems with these parts, and while it may not extend life, it sure as hell extends living.