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Redefining Old Age
(Sergei Scherbov and Warren Sanderson)

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Most studies of population aging focus on only one characteristic of people: their chronological age. For example, the Old Age Dependency Ratio categorizes people as “old” at age 65, regardless of whether they were living 50 years ago or are likely to be living 50 years in the future. But 65-year-olds today generally have higher remaining life expectancies and are healthier than their counterparts in previous generations. Age-specific characteristics vary over time and place. Focusing on only one aspect of the changes entailed in population aging but not on all the others provides a limited picture that is often not appropriate for scientific study or policy analysis. The presentation is devoted to new ways of measuring aging that more accurately represent the real world. It will be shown that once more adequate measures of aging are used past aging looks very different and in countries with high life expectancies almost no aging was observed. Future aging trends look much less gloomy when new indicators of aging are used compared to traditional approaches. The recently developed characteristics approach for the study of population aging will be introduced and used in evaluating differences in aging across space and time. The main idea of the approach is the conversion of different characteristics that reflect people’s physical, cognitive or health conditions to a single metric. The hallmark of the approach is the consistent use of changing characteristic schedules together with changing age structures, regardless of the exact way in which the two are combined. 

Sergei Scherbov is Director of Demographic Analysis of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (Univ. Vienna, IIASA, VID/OeAW), Vienna, Austria; a Project Leader at the Population and Just Societies Program at IIASA; Leader of the research group on Population Dynamics and Forecasting at the Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences. He is also a Director of the International Laboratory of Demography and Human Capital, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration and a Honorary Professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand where he teaches advanced demographic analysis. Sergei Scherbov is an expert in the fields of demographic modelling, population projections and measuring aging. In 2012, Scherbov received a prestigious Advanced Grant from European Research Council (ERC) to study new measures of aging. In 2020 he received an ERC Proof of Concept Grant for his project "Fair Pensions and Population Ageing". His main current research interests are in population projections, new measures of aging, and analysis of aging that takes into consideration changing characteristics of people. He is author, co-author and co-editor of several books and more than 200 articles published in professional journals including 7 articles in Science and Nature. His research was covered by leading news media such as CNN, BBC, Newsweek, New York Times, Forbes, Washington Post, National Geographic, Spiegel, Daily Telegraph etc. His latest book Prospective Longevity: A New Vision of Population Aging was published by Harvard University Press in November 2019.

See below some supporting materials:

The Characteristics Approach to the Measurement of Population Aging

Remeasuring Aging

Average remaining lifetimes can increase as human populations age

Webinar joint with CERGAS.