BERLIN — Half of the people born today in Germany will live to be 100 years old. I just read that in a study produced by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, and it scares me. My kids live in a large northern city — Berlin — often celebrated for its eternal youth. And now that mecca of urban bohemia is supposed to morph into a hotbed of Methusalahs (Methusalah being, according to the Hebrew bible, the oldest person who ever lived)?
I wish my kids long, healthy lives, but I do wonder what they are going to do with all that time?
The daughter of a colleague of mine graduated from high school last year at 16, two years ahead of the usual age. She skipped two grades and was enrolled in “fast-track” classes, but hers was far from a unique case. There are a lot of kids like her. After completing a three-month language course at Oxford, she applied to the university just for fun. To study math. Her dad was a little upset by this because she was accepted, and he didn’t have a clue how he was going to pay for it.
But this is what shocked me: A 16-year-old girl can’t think of something better to do than apply to university? My colleague is somebody who squatted buildings when he was younger, although you wouldn’t notice any signs of his subversive side now.
When I was 16, my parents grounded me from my favorite disco as punishment for staying out past midnight. When I went out, my mother could sleep only after she heard the sound of my motor bike returning. What time I came home were the kinds of things she worried about. But somehow all that was normal, and at 21 I still didn’t know what I wanted to study at university and what I wanted to become.
How can you know that at 16? I don’t understand it, and I worry about my children. What does a child do when they’ve got their Oxford degree at age 20? Get a job right away, start a family, build a house? And then at age 30 they have a midlife crisis and find themselves asking: What now?
And then there are 70 more long years ahead.
Of course, they could opt to remarry, pay off more debts, work even harder, start another family. And then, what, they’re maybe 45? What then? Approaches to living need an overhaul.
New classifications of old
There are various definitions of old out there, with young-old considered by different studies to be the 60-74 age group, middle-old the 70-84 age group, with very old starting between ages 80 and 85.
The study shows that most very, very old people not only live in the northern part of Germany but they live in big cities as well — something that surprised the researchers. In the beautiful south, where the climate is mild, many more people are reaching very old age but not very, very old age. There could be a genetic component to this, the researchers say, because people in the north tend to be taller and bigger. They infrequently change addresses. They often eat healthy. And there are plenty of nearby hospitals.
This is food for thought. My babies were big at birth. They’re already in the world’s coolest city, so they presumably won’t want to leave it. The ice cream they get here is organic. I can only hope they’ll get old — but sexy old. Under no circumstances will I let them skip even just one grade.