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Age 72 really is the new 30

We're living far longer than our ancestors did. This is spectacularly good news, but it brings social challenges that must be managed.

The serious-minded Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany has provided the media with a bombshell headline: "72 is the new 30".

Its researchers have determined that the average human lifespan has increased more in the past 100 years than in the previous 200,000 years. In fact, the average lifespan barely rose at all from hunter-gatherer times - when a man had the same odds of dying at the age of 30 as a 72-year-old man does today - until 1900.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, drew on data about men born in the 20th century in Sweden and Japan, and estimates about ancient humans based on observations of modern hunter-gatherers in remote places.

It's an acknowledgement of extraordinary advances in medicine, and what one of the scientists calls the "plasticity" of the human lifespan. Lead researcher Oskar Burger said that, if these gains in longevity continued, it was impossible to speculate what age a human being could attain.

However, the advances are creating a burden for society. The idea of retiring at 65 will have to be reassessed, as will the provision of health care funds. And then there's the big question: who really wants to live forever?

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