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All About My Age

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

And Why I’m Much Older than I Thought I was
When my kids became teenagers I began to feel old: I saw myself as fit, healthy and (relatively) young but they, clearly, didn’t and it began to be un-cool to be around them. I’m now in my 40s in a world that is growing older and older (the global life expectancy is now at 72) … so what’s the big deal?

I may be young in absolute terms but definitely not in relative ones! If you’re my age – 43 years – there are 5.1 billion (in a world of almost 7.3 billion) youngsters for whom that’s old. Seen otherwise, you are part of the world's 30 percent oldest people! It was a long time ago that I was in the middle of the global age distribution: today the “median human” is only 29 years old.

Yet people are living increasingly long lives: not just in advanced economies but also in developing ones like China. Getting to 40 makes you still old in relative terms because the rising number of adults is mostly happening in the age groups behind you. The population momentum is very strong among those who are in their 20s and 30s today. Sure enough those young adults will eventually reach their 40s and 50s but by then I will be a bona fide oldie.

For those of you who may be getting depressed here is some good news, especially if you come from Europe, North America or Japan. In Germany, I am still just below the middle of the age distribution (at the 47th percentile). However, in Kenya, where I lived until last year, I would be a true oldie, among the 10 percent oldest people in that country! These big contrasts give you a sense of the varying demographic profiles across the world: many Southern countries experience rapid population growth driven by a rising share of young adults while many Northern nations are facing the challenge of aging and demographic stagnation.

The world’s demographic shift means that a very large wave of young talented people is coming ‘on-line’. There was always a majority of young people in the world; the big difference today is that almost all kids pretty much everywhere are likely to survive. They will still be around in the next decades as adults. With higher education levels and connectivity, they will be able to shape (and re-shape) tomorrow’s world like no generation before.

So for those of us behind the curve: can we still keep up with new trends and fashions? Will we have time to age gracefully? Thinking of your age in relative terms can be scary but it can also be a pretext for more birthdays and parties. You could start celebrating relative milestones: in my case, I should reach position 6 billion on January 20, 2022. The world will then have 7.8 billion people. My position 7 billion is projected for June 12, 2030 and I may even become the 8 and 9 billionth person to celebrate my rapidly changing relative age.

How do I know all this? With some friends and colleagues we developed, an application which tells you all these facts about you. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Note: This is the first in a series of three articles. It builds on a TED talk held in November at TEDx Vienna


Submitted by T.V. Somanathan on

This is a wonderful site. I enjoyed the insights it brings. But I have long wanted to ask a question which I am hopeful you will be able to shed light on. Based on anecdotal evidence, I get a sense that increased life expectancy at birth in countries like India is primarily driven by fewer infant deaths. I am not so sure that the loose term "people are living longer" is actually true. So would it be possible to get data for "Life expectancy at age 10"? If a child has survived to age 10, to what extent is that child expected to survive longer than a child at age 10 in 1950? In other words, is the whole thing (in countries like India) driven by reduced infant mortality? I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this. Again, thanks for an excellent website and for such an insightful set of observations.

Submitted by Wolfgang on

Dear T.V., thank you very much for your essential question. You are right that the reduction in child mortality is a key development breakthrough and it also made an important contribution to longer life expectancies. Obviously a person living a full life instead of dying as an infant is also living longer. However, life expectancies are increasing everywhere, including in countries where life expectancy had been low even before. The global average is now at 72 years up from 62 years in 1980. The application which we launched at a recent TEDx talk actually allows you model the case you are describing. Let’s use your example: a 10 year old Indian girl is projected to live until age 78.5 while the same while under the conditions of the year 1990, the same girl would only be expected to live until age 74. Have a look:

Submitted by Richard Pratt on

I appreciate this information highly. It is insightful for me and can be used to educate my friends and family.

Submitted by Jose Pepito Cunanan on

Discover the Value of Your Age!

An age-old question is asked us all through life: “How old are you?”
The common reply is the chronological measure of one’s age, given in numbers.
Next time someone asks the question “how old are you?” , a statement can be made… ‘it is a wrong question’. Or ‘it is an outmoded question, passe’.
There must be other measures about a person, man or woman, other than one’s numerical age.
What could be said is that life is colorful. Life has various shades and hues in terms of experiences, education, expertise, excellence. There is more to life than numbers. There is both quantity and quality. And more value is added as one increase in age.
Vintage is defined as the period of time when something appeared or began, or when somebody was born or flourished; Also, vintage represents what is best or most characteristic of somebody or something; recognized as being of high quality and lasting appeal.
Also, one can have a sense of achievement as one add up years in this life:
a. If you are 1 year old to 24 years old, you are a Bronze Medalist.
b. From 25 to 49 years old, you are a Silver Medalist.
c. From 50 to 74 years old, you are a Gold Medalist.
d. From 75 to 100+ years old and above, you are a Diamond Medalist.

Hope you discover where you belong and how valuable you are.
In some cases, government, business, and society give the wrong measures and signals, as in the case of the valuation of age. Go back to the age range and ask: Who has the Experience, Education, Expertise and even Excellence?
And who devalues these achievements because of chronology?
And even for measurable matters, which age group has the following:
1. Who has the titles? Academic and Property, Land
2. Who owns the house?
3. Whose name is registered as the Land or Lot Owner?
4. Whose got bank accounts for savings and deposits?
5. Whose got regular income from pensions and return of investments?
6. Whose got time for leisure and alternative employment and creative, learning activities?

Jose Pepito Manansala Cunanan / Elizabeth De Leon Cortez Cunanan

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