What if the people of the not-so-distant future valued older adults’ health outcomes as the assets they truly are? What if their governments forged deep partnerships with the private sector to implement policies and initiatives that support the equitable opportunities for vitality of older adults across racial, social, and economic lines so that all people don’t just survive longer — they actually thrive longer? What does the face of society look like when its systems and structures encourage people to engage, physically, socially, and mentally at every stage of life — including later life?

This isn’t a pipedream — it’s a possibility. The National Academy of Medicine’s roadmap plots for 2050 envisions a world whose people enjoy “healthy longevity,” a term which the academy defines as “when years of good health approach the biological life span, with physical, cognitive, and social functioning that enables well-being.”

Healthy longevity, the National Academy contends, isn’t just important for older people: it’s the backbone of their vision for a future where nations prosper because younger and older people work across the generational lines and solve challenges together, each one benefiting from the other’s skills, worldview, and way of working.  It’s a world in which individuals, families, communities, and societies flourish to their pull potential — and it’s only possible after decades of dedicated work prioritizing and advancing equity.

The National Academy’s roadmap contends that if we’re truly to build a future where healthy longevity is enjoyed by all, we must reduce disparity and drive equity by 2027 in order to be on track to achieve it by 2050. Heightening the urgency of taking action in the next five years, researchers for the academy emphasize that “by 2023, governments should establish calls to action to develop and implement data-driven, all-of-society plans for building organizations and social infrastructure needed to enable healthy longevity.”

Historically, increases like these in a society’s life expectancy occur in conjunction with lifespan equity — that is, similar lifespan across demographics. But achieving this vision of equity and healthy longevity doesn’t happen on its own — it requires purposeful, focused and, if societies are to hit their target of 2050, urgent action.

As part of AARP’s commitment to a world where generational equity and equity in healthy longevity advance in lockstep, we say: let’s move now to embolden the public, private, and non-profit sectors to work together to organize cross-sector plans of action to enable healthy longevity. 

Healthy Longevity will also require equity, and part of this call to action includes the collection of data on where local and geographic and racial disparities persist.  Many of the communities with the worst life expectancy may not be able to implement calls to action to advance healthy longevity without external support. Knowing where disparities exist must be followed by focused investments in communities who are experiencing the most disparities in healthy longevity. 

Acting on the Roadmap recommendations to address disparities now will catalyze a virtuous cycle of social and economic growth that sees young and older people working together to bolster economic activity. AARP’s Longevity Economy Outlook estimates $1.6 trillion in increased economic activity, 10.1 million more jobs, and $934 billion more in wages and salaries in 2030 alone if life expectancy disparities — like those that fall along racial lines — can be eliminated.

It’s clear from the data that investing in equitable health outcomes like life expectancy results in increased human capital, more opportunities for intergenerational mentorship, work, volunteering, and play. An investment in equity is an investment in the full economic potential of our nation: greater productivity, innovation, and capital gains starts with more people living longer, healthier lives.

Longevity Economy Outlook

The Longevity Economy outlooks are a series of data analyses from AARP that describe the contributions of Americans age 50-plus, worth over $9 trillion in 2018 and projected to grow to $26.8 trillion in 2050.  A recent Longevity Economy outlook report – Our Collective Future: The Economic Impact of Unequal Life Expectancy concluded that the annual economic cost to the U.S. GDP caused by disparities in life expectancy is expected to reach $1.6 trillion in 2030.  The current inequities in life expectancy could cost the U.S. around 10.1 million jobs and $934 billion in wages and salaries in 2030. That totals 5.1% of the projected GDP, which would be equivalent of the combined size of Massachusetts’ and Virginia’s economies in 2030. Additional key findings in the report include:

  • Disparities stifle economic growth, resulting in an annual loss of $1.1 trillion in total consumer spending in 2030. 
  • The U.S. could have 5.9 million more people in 2030, with 92% of these among the 50-plus cohort, if everyone had the same opportunities to live longer, healthier and more productive lives.
  • Inequities in life expectancy could cost the U.S. around 10.1 million jobs and $934 billion in wages and salaries in 2030.