Poll finds Americans want to live longer, but not too much

August 7, 2013

(Salustiano Sanchez, 112, the world’s oldest man according to Guinness World Records, resides in a retirement home on Grand Island, New York, July 30, 2013. REUTERS/Doug Benz )

How long would you like to live – 100 years? Maybe 120? Would extended life spans be good for society, the economy and the way people go through their lives?

With populations aging and medical science progressing, questions like these are moving from the science-fiction category to the realm of long-term issues that ethicists and policy makers are starting to consider.

The Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank known for its surveys into political and social trends, published a report on Tuesday exploring views about “radical life extension” and its effects in the United States.

Entitled “Living to 120 and Beyond”, the report said that “many Americans do not look happily on the prospect of living much longer lives”. Among the findings:

- The median ideal lifespan mentioned in the poll of 2,012 people was 90 years, about 11 years longer than the current average U.S. life expectancy of 78.7 years.

- Some 56 percent said they would refuse medical treatment to extend their lives, 38 percent would take it and the rest didn’t answer. But 68 percent thought that other people would seize the opportunity. Only 41 percent thought living to 120 would be good for society.

- Some 79 percent said life extension should be available to all, but 66 percent thought only the rich would have access to it and another 66 percent feared scientists would offer the treatment before fully understanding its health effects.

- Black and Hispanic Americans are more positive than whites about extending life, although the survey could not explain why. Religious views, gender and education did not seem to play a significant role in responses to the national survey.

(Misao Okawa (R) receives a certification from an official of Guinness World Records in Osaka, Japan,as the world’s oldest woman in this photo taken by Kyodo February 27, 2013. She celebrated her 115th birthday on March 5th. REUTERS/Kyodo)

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