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Making the homo centenarius sustainable

Half of the Italian children who are now 10 years old are to live 104. And we are not even the longest-living country: it is expected that half of their coetaneous in Japan will reach 107 years of age (Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, The 100 – Year Life, 2016). There is a reason it is often talked of homo centenarius, the evolution of homo sapiens, characterized by an unprecedented longevity. A good news, it would seem. Instead, the lengthening of life expectancy gives rise to contrasted sentiments in most people. We enjoy longevity for ourselves, for our loved ones and friends, but we are afraid of it on social level. We wonder anxiously who will take care of all these seniors, who will pay for their retirement and their medical care.

This concern hides an assumption: that of considering people over the age of retirement as “net takers” who consume the resources of society, without producing anything, taking it away from other demographic groups. This vision is outdated and counter-productive: the social construct of aging is not faithful to reality because it has remained the same despite major changes in lifestyles and life expectations. Unfortunately, if we don’t do something to upgrade it, it’s likely to affect, in a negative way, the over-sixties. This kind of negative prophecies have an unpleasant capacity for self-fulfillment.