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 www.population.io, 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.