Friday, July 15, 2011
The above data are from the CDC and show the percentage of Americans surviving at each age for three different points in history - 1900, 1950, and 2006. I would expect the pattern to be fairly similar for other developed countries. The point, apropos of yesterday, is that there was a lot more progress from 1900 to 1950 than there was from 1950 to 2006.
Here's the same idea but broken out in more detail by decade:
Again, you can see that progress has been getter slower and slower, and most of the progress has come from eliminating things that kill young people, with much less improvement in the chronic conditions that see off the middle aged and the elderly.
But to achieve this slowing progress requires spending a larger and larger fraction of US GDP on healthcare:
And note that GDP has itself been growing a few percent a year on average.
Maybe there'll be some massive breakthrough in the future that will change this situation, but there's sure no evidence of it in the data at present. Rather than being immortal via being uploaded into a computer in a few decades, it seems a lot more likely that we'll all continue to die of chronic diseases somewhere between age 70 and 100. (Ray Kurzweil not withstanding).
Update (Saturday July 16th):
Paul Kedrosky posted this graph (from Lane Kenworthy) , which suggests that at least the increasing cost part of the diminishing returns really does look rather worse in the US than the rest of the developed world: