Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Melinda Howes Q & A: 'Insight: Staying Alive' on SBS

This episode of 'Insight' on SBS - screening tonight - will focus on Australia's ageing population.

One of the guests is Melinda Howes.

Melinda is paid to think about the future and work out what the risks and opportunities are around the big issues we face. She is CEO of the Actuaries Institute, which released a recent white paper on “Australia’s Longevity Tsunami”.

“Of all the humans who have ever lived to age 65, half of them are alive today,” she says. “The concept of retirement will disappear; people will dip in and out of the workforce.”

Melinda was interviewed here by 'Our Sandwich Generation' blog on the issues we face as a nation, in line with tonight's 'Insight'.

Tell me how you think Australia’s ageing population will have a huge impact on Australia’s way of life, in so many ways.

If we are fit healthy and mentally acute until our 90’s or 100’s, this will impact how we work – how long we work for, work patterns, number of careers during our working lifetime. We will have multiple careers (and probably also multiple marriages!) and will have periods of retirement or flexible work when it suits us. The concept of 40 years of full time work is already a myth for many Australians, and the trend away from this will continue.

Our infrastructure and our cities will need to work for people of all ages. Even if we are fit and healthy, with 22% of the population aged 65+ by 2050 we’ll need fewer stairs, better access, room for mobility scooters (the Commonwealth Games venue on the Gold Coast is already facing this challenge in their planning  locals are outraged that only a small number of scooters will be accommodated) etc.

If we play our cards right we’ll be able to harness the experience of our elder Australians in a range of ways – through participating I the workforce, through mentoring younger workers, volunteering, policymaking... the list goes on. I see a future where our elders are valued and listened to. Not marginalised and ignored. We’ll have a wealth of experience at our fingertips.

In line with the Actuaries Institute ‘Australia’s Longevity Tsunami’ paper, you add that “Of all the humans who have ever lived to age 65, half of them are alive today.” Do you think people are generally aware of this huge shift in our society?

No people are certainly not aware. We think we are going to live as long as our grandparents, or maybe our parents, lived. We have not taken into account the rapid rise of longevity – global longevity has doubled in the last 100 years and in Australia since the late 1800’s  it’s risen by 30 years.

Even if we look at the life expectancy statistics put out by the ABS (life expectancy at birth of 79 for men and 84 for women), these are misleading and do not paint a true picture of how long we will be living. Period life expectancies (used by the ABS) are useful for comparing different countries, but not for estimating how long an individual may love. It doesn’t allow for future improvements in our longevity.

Using COHORT life expectancy gives a better picture. The Australian Government Actuary estimates that today’s 65 year olds ON AVERAGE will life until 86 for men and 89 for women. So today’s 65 year old men will live TWICE AS LONG IN RETIREMENT as they may be expecting if they read the ABS stats (from 65 to 86, when they were expecting 79).
And these is more. By 2050, 65 year olds will be living to 92 for men, and 93 for women.
But that doesn’t allow for some of the drugs and medical breakthroughs that were discussed in the program. If Dr David’s anti-ageing drug comes onto the market, life expectancies could jump up much more quickly than the above projections suggest.

'Insight' is hosted by Gold Walkley Award-winning journalist Jenny Brockie and airs every Tuesday at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.

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