Many times I’ve asked octogenarians if they thought they would live to be that age. I’ve noted that the great majority actually say that they did not think they would be that age. Besides the humbleness that most have to be blessed with that many years of life, there are other commonalities, such as having a history of eating from a home garden that has been worked yearly while providing for routine exercise for many years, a strong Christian faith, and a history of a strong, stable marriage. All of these characteristics are associated with living a longer life and many studies back up these statements.
The Bible is full of advice on living a long life. One example, of many, is that we are instructed, by the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments, to honor our father and mother if we want to live a long life. Being able to honor one’s father and mother involves the development of many characteristics of living that provide for living a long life. Those who will not do that are rebellious and that certainly leads to many behaviors with potential for the shortening of life span. Even when there has been a negative parental experience, deciding upon forgiveness releases one from bitterness, depression, anxiety, and ill health effects when parents are honored solely because they are father and mother.
I’ve said for several years now that I expected to see evidence soon of a decline in life expectancy in our country and, unfortunately, that has come into being. An article in the New York Times on September 20, “Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S.”, was based upon a study published in August in Health Affairs. In reference to the study, John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging, stated, “We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling.” The steepest decline was seen among white women without a high school diploma and this group had a loss of five years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2008; among white men, it was three years lost. Among blacks and Hispanics of the same educational level, life expectancy rose, but blacks have a lower total life expectancy than whites and Hispanics have the longest life expectancy of the three groups. There are large gaps in life expectancy between those with a high school diploma and those without one. In the United Nations rankings among countries, American women were 14th place in 1985 and now are at 41st place.
Speculation abounds as to the various reasons why life expectancy is decreasing for whites. The authors bring out various valid suggestions such as the fact that obesity rates are increasing, smoking rates and prescription drug overdosing are high among less educated white women, and the least educated Americans many times lack health insurance. It must also be considered that the rates of unmarried women having children has increased which usually brings with it a lack of educational achievement and income while many single mothers have to work low-wage jobs and are very stressed with negative health effects. Other factors that the authors have not considered include the rise of Hepatitis C and HIV during the time period of this study.
It was stated in the abstract of the study, “The message for policy makers is clear: implement educational enhancements at young, middle, and older ages for people of all races, to reduce the large gap in health and longevity that persists today.” I do not agree with this assessment. We will not see life span be as great as it can be just because education is enhanced and possibly more people get high school diplomas. Educational achievement does contribute to income levels, but higher income levels alone do not guarantee a longer life either. I think the real issue here is that not having a high school diploma is associated with other factors which together reflect a greater potential for a shorter life span; in other words, the absence of the high school diploma is a sign of greater problems, rather than being the primary problem. That primary problem is the detrimental lifestyle choices being made which are also being reflected through the alarming statistics of the breakdown of the traditional family. Although it is ultimately up to the individual and the choices that are made, policy makers can positively increase life spans by promotion of the traditional family through incentives for people to get married and stay married combined with halting the subsidizing of bad behavior. In the present day, the right lifestyle will usually result in one getting a high school diploma, not vice versa. Just ask those around you who have made it to being eighty years of age and above. They’ll gladly share with you some wisdom of how they made it to that age range. The recognition and respect of a higher moral authority than any human is the beginning of wisdom and a life that will be as long as it can be.