The Infinite Monkey Cage

One of my favourite podcasts is the BBC’s “Infinite Monkey Cage”. This features the brainbox Brian Cox (not the actor) and is a good way to learn a bit about science. Episode 25 is called “Can we cure ageing?” and included some useful information which helps with retirement planning.

The podcast confirms one of the great, good news stories of the last 200 years. People are living much longer than they used to! In fact, if you take the top performing country in terms of life expectancy for each year since the early 1800s, you can see that, every year, about 3 months has been added to life expectancy. For hundreds of thousands of years before then, people had lived, on average, until about 35. The improvement in life expectancy has been remarkable for its consistency.

The current crop of ten year olds are the safest human beings in history. They have a less than 1 in 10,000 chance of not making it to see their 11th birthdays.

For most people, genes explain between 5% and 20% of your life expectancy. The rest is lifestyle and luck. However, this changes if you have parents or siblings who live to a very old age; if they lived till over 100, your chances of making it to 100 are 10 times greater than for the general population of making 100 yourself. Research suggests that centenarians have protective genetics – their long lives are not down to the lifestyle habits they learn from our parents.

One subject the panel touched on, which made me laugh, was the link between long life and pension fraud. The French woman who had the longest reported life (she lived till 122) is now widely believed to have been her daughter, who quietly buried her mother and carried on claiming her pension!

Humans have weak will power and this may prevent us from living as long as we might hope. Experiments on rats in the 1930s showed that, if the rats were given a calorie restricted diet, their lifespans were extended hugely. Sadly, no experiment has succeeded in humans – it seems we just can’t stick to the calorie restrictions!

One piece of good news for pensioners is that having older people around you may well extend your own life expectancy. In pods of killer whales, the “grandmother effect” has been observed – members of those pods which include older females have longer life expectancies than those which don’t. This appears to be down to the wisdom and knowledge of the older females, helping the pod to find feeding grounds in different times.

There are plenty of other useful nuggets in this episode and it’s a great introduction to the series. I’ve learnt about exoplanets through this week’s podcast. Fascinating but not appropriate for a retirement blog!

Philip Wise | philip@sussexretirement.co.uk

Managing Director and Chartered Financial Planner


This guide is for information purposes and does not constitute financial advice, which should be based on your individual circumstances.

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