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Posts tagged: life expectancy

How long will you live?

In my extended family, I sometimes ask the 30-and-40-something members how long they think they'll live. Some think it's a weird question. But what I've learned from being part of a very large family, with multiple generations, is this: It's impossible to predict who will last a long time and who will die pretty young.

We recently learned that a cousin we didn't know very well died at age 56. She'd had some mental problems and because she was an only child, and her mother and father both died long ago, and her husband divorced her, we don't have anyone to ask the circumstances. She lived in California and Oregon. Very sad.

My mom, at 91, has outlived four brothers, two older, two younger. My dad, the youngest of seven, was one of the first to die at age 77.

According to the National Institute on Aging, in 1970, “the average life expectancy at birth in the United States was 70.8 years; in 2008, it was 78.0 years; and by 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau projects life expectancy will reach 79.5 years.”

When my nieces and nephews ask me how old I want to live until, I often pick 79. I always wanted to be part of the big crowd.

At what age do you want to get out of this race?

(My 91-year-old mom with my extended family's youngest, 2-week-old Giovanni)

What age do you wish to live to?

In our newspaper yesterday, an Associated Press story reported that the U.S. life expectancy had reached the all-time high — 78 years and 2 months.

For a few years now, I've floated a theory with any futurist types I interview. I tell them I don't think the baby boomers will have as much longevity as predicted. Nor live as long as our parents' generation.

The reasoning? Boomers were the first junk food generation. In the teens and 20s, part of the drug culture. Now, as sandwich generation folks, we're squeezed on both sides. Stress is a killer. And finally, I don't think boomers are as tough as the Greatest Generation. Also, ask any boomer how old they want to be when they die and most mention the late 70s or early 80s.

No one I talked with agrees, of course. All the studies, including the one reported yesterday, show longevity increasing.

In my stubborn mind, the jury is still out. 

About the photo: Besse Cooper, 114, sits in her wheelchair while daughter Angie Tharp, 82, left, and daughter-in-law Edith Cooper, 72, talk to her after a ceremony in which Guinness World Records recognized her as the word's oldest living person, at the nursing home where she lives, Thursday, March 10, 2011, in Monroe, Ga.
(AP Photo/John Amis)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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