In a rather strange entry into the increasingly crowded field of people-are-living-longer articles, Linda Duberley writes, "News that scientists have discovered a gene that is known to treble your odds of living to 100 and may help you to ward off Alzheimer's merely adds weight to a wealth of research that states that women especially have a high chance of living until they are well over 100 years old." She also quotes life-insurance researcher Nigel Barlow, who offers this assessment of the coming gerontocracy:
If we think that the UK high street is likely to be swamped with women pushing their trolleys home for an early tea, we need to think again. These women bear no relation to our preconceived idea of female pensioners. They are exceptional super-grandmothers. There are instances of women applying for motorcycle licences and participating in charity parachute jumps in their eighties.
Barlow's words are somewhat heartening, but they also reveal the general lack of nuance in discussions of increasing life expectancy (not yet an issue, it's worth noting, in many parts of the world). Articles about our supposedly stretching allotments on this earth tend to either panic over the coming influx of infirm retirees, or paint a utopian vision of motorcycling super-grannies. The truth is probably more complicated than either — if we're really going to start living longer, we probably are going to have to deal with longer periods of reduced physical capacity. This would probably be a lot more manageable if we stopped thinking of youthfulness as an ideal to be sought throughout life, and if we accepted that most people suffer illness and infirmity at some point. Unfortunately, the culture of aging, at least in America, takes the opposite tack, pushing everything from Botox to human growth hormone on both men and women in an effort to "turn back the clock."
Duberley's article contains some interesting insights, like her analysis of women over 60 in the fashion world (ie. Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington, pictured). But it devotes a full six paragraphs to the caveat that although we might live longer than our mothers, we'd better start popping out babies now. Duberley writes,
There is a warning, however, for the daughters of women living to a ripe old age. Although we have done a great deal to delay the appearance of ageing and to improve screening and preventive medicines, we have made few advances in extending fertility. Doctors have extended women's lives, but not the lives of the eggs from which they are born.
Further hammering the point home, she writes that a girl's egg supply may be half depleted by the time she's 15 (yes, ladies, that clock starts ticking in middle school) and that "at 50, it is game over." She also passes along (with some confusing attribution that took me a minute to work out) the advice of Dr. Melanie Davies, who "suggests that women should aim to conceive at a much earlier age and start their careers later on." Right-o. Davies also says, "We all want to see greater life expectancy, but the issue facing women now is that they look and feel younger than some parts of their bodies. They are out of step with their biological clocks." It would be nice if the issue of female fertility could be framed in terms of the very real difficulties of balancing work and reproduction, as well as the unpredictability inherent in the process of finding a partner and starting a family. Instead, doctors and journalists alike keep telling women that their fertility concerns are the result of their own confusion and poor planning. Duberley's article is meant to be uplifting, but the last six paragraphs are a reminder that living longer will also mean putting up with more shit.