Charts: 1

Life expectancy by age group

(Charles Platt is a guest blogger)

I have always enjoyed drawing charts and graphs as a means to enhance my understanding the world.

The histogram above addresses the most fundamental fact of human life: Sooner or later, it ends. To me, all other issues are trivial by comparison.

I made this chart using data from the National Institutes of Health. You can find your age group on the bottom scale, then check your average remaining life expectancy on the left scale. Naturally this number declines relentlessly as you get older.

The good news is that the longer you live, the longer you are likely to live. Thus, at birth in the United States, under conditions that prevail today, you can expect to live for a little more than 75 years. But at age 75, on average you still have another 10 years left. How can this be? Because some of the people who were born around the same time as yourself have already died by the time you're 75, leaving only a subset who were less susceptible to disease (or accidents).

The bad news is that despite all our advances in medicine, sanitation, and other relevant factors, the chart still tapers off around age 100. Average lifespan has increased, but maximum lifespan has not changed significantly.

One reason may be that research to prolong maximum lifespan receives minuscule funding, especially compared with popular endeavors such as cancer research. Many people seem to feel that extending maximum lifespan would be “wrong” (even at a time of rapidly declining birth rates in many nations) or “unnatural” (even though our average life expectancy used to be around 40, and has improved through totally unnatural means such as antibiotics).

As you may infer from the quotation marks, I disagree. Of course, I realize that these are controversial issues.

One of the most effective special-interest groups seeking funding for longevity research is .