If humans could live longer, what would this mean for the future of work and the workforce?
We may not have to ask this question for much longer.
More and more medical professionals and researchers have a suspicion that a medicine costing just five dollars a month — developed from a compound discovered more than a century ago in the common French lilac — could be the key to combating aging.
The drug, called metformin, has some interesting effects on metabolism, cells, and the way our bodies defend against viruses. The drug has so far shown anti-aging effects on mice, roundworms, and fruit flies.
This drug might help humans to age slower because it can potentially delay the onset of cancer, cognitive decline, and vision loss in seniors. Studies show that metformin can delay stem-cell aging, promote autophagy, and prevent telomere shortening — all of which help combat the effects of aging. This remarkable drug also safeguards against processes that lead to disease, such as oxidative stress.
The other revolutionary part? It won’t just be millionaire tech magnates who can afford this drug; anyone could take it.
What impact would anti-aging meds have on the future of work?
If these innovative treatments mean our workforce is healthier and living longer, it most likely means people would need to work longer. What would this mean for the economy? What would this phenomenon mean for the future of work? Perhaps the most jarring question is: What would this mean for the age of retirement — will the U.S. benchmark of 65 no longer be feasible?
These are all questions that are difficult to address. Adjusting a set retirement age is a touchy, politically risky and divisive topic, as laid bare by the revolt in France against President Emmanuel Macron’s legislation that would raise the age of retirement just two years — from 62 to 64.
While the full repercussions of a longer-living workforce are still to be imagined, the idea of prolonging human life using anti-aging drugs has been tossed around for years.
In 2006, an NBC article discussed the topic: “For most people, living longer will inevitably mean more time spent working. Careers will necessarily become longer, and the retirement age will have to be pushed back, not only so individuals can support themselves, but to avoid overtaxing a nation’s social security system,” wrote Ker Than. “Advocates of anti-aging research say that working longer might not be such a bad thing. With skilled workers remaining in the workforce longer, economic productivity would go up.”
Bioethicist Daniel Callahan, a co-founder of the Hastings Center in New York said in the same article that “if this could ever happen, then we’d better ask what kind of society we want to get. We had better not go anywhere near it until we have figured those problems out.”
It is certainly too soon to tell what significant impact these types of medications will have on society long term. But there are two options, each with wide-reaching implications if the workforce enters this longer-work life reality:
- If healthy older people remain in the workforce longer, they could continue to make money, thus relieving pressure on health care and entitlement programs.
- If healthy older people don’t want to work and still plan to retire in their 60s, then they might collect social security benefits, which would unbalance and drain these benefits for future generations.
The effects of these medications are endless — both positive and negative — and responses to their implications for workers will need to be carefully considered by individual governments.
Portions of this article originally appeared on All Work website.
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