Thursday, December 6, 2018

Age... Modes, Medians, Musings

Death be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so…
   — John Donne

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden

   — Joni Mitchell

George H.W. Bush’s passing has me musing a bit about aging…
I’ve never honestly understood the widespread desire of folks to live into their 80s and 90s. Quality of life, and not length, has always been my stoic main concern. What Steve Jobs accomplished in 56 years blows me away; I wish we’d had him around another half-dozen years, but only if his quality of life had been maintained… and it wouldn’t have been.
George H.W. Bush died at 94 years of age, Jimmy Carter’s current age. Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both passed at 93. Those are long lives by current standards  (and yet I hear some scientists talking, I think ridiculously and grievously, about humans living routinely to 120+). The average longevity for a male in America is currently around 76, and for a female about 82. Of course ex-presidents get the best of care and opportunities, so it’s not surprising they may outlive the averages.

Anyway, those averages are what we always hear about, but I started wondering about the median and mode of longevity, and was at least slightly surprised by what I found. The median expected longevity age (at birth) for a male is ~80, and for a female is ~85, while the modal male age is ~86 and ~89 for females (I was viewing 2014 stats, but assume they haven’t changed much).
Of course it’s to be expected that the median ages would be higher than the average longevity ages since plenty of people die at say 15 or 20 (and younger). For males to average 76 years of longevity it means a male who dies at say 15 must either be ‘averaged out’ by a male dying at 137 (which ain’t gonna happen), or several males must die past 76. Still I find it rather amazing that essentially half or more of the population is living past ~80 (…what, and dying bankrupt to the medical system???… sorry). Seriously, the proportional skewing of populations (as never before seen) to an older cohort has worrying ramifications for the future of society, and perhaps for the well-being of younger generations, if more-and-more of society’s money and resources must be siphoned off to an expanding older population), but that’s fodder for a different discussion.

The mode is more interesting: for men ~86, for women ~89. That’s the one that really surprises me (partly only because I scan local obituaries fairly often and would guess most deaths I see are between mid-70s and low 80s). I wonder (but haven’t looked up) what the second and third closest modal numbers are, and what (if anything) accounts for those particular numbers (or is it sheer happenstance more than anything else)?

My peer group (and I haven’t even hit 70 yet), with our aches and pains, rickety joints, hips, and knees, high blood pressure, cholesterol, or acid reflux, etc. etc. often joke to each other that we were sold a bill-of-goods when young about how wonderful retirement and old-age would be. Yeah, age has its privileges and freedoms (woo-hooo, discount coffee at McDonalds ;)… but also its frustrations, like incessantly watching the world take 3 steps forward and 4 steps back; seeing problems/issues we thought were resolved return over-and-over again. And hearing, eyesight, mobility etc. all decline; virtually nothing of our physicality improves with age; we merely adapt to the gradual infirmities. Living vicariously through the lives of children/grandchildren is rewarding; I’m less certain that living in the day-to-day real world is! (but maybe that’s just my brain living under Donald Trump speaking). It’s famously said that “youth is wasted on the young” — that has more meaning for me now than it did even 15 years ago; as Kierkegaard put it, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Then there’s the David Mamet adage, ”Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance" — that’s a fun one (I employ it in pickleball whenever I can). But truthfully, it is only young people, with each new generation, who are left to fix the world their parents… and old Presidents… screw up royally… time and time again. If only young people would never grow up! ;)

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