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If You Could Live To 120, Would You Really Want To?

Live to 120? Here I come!
Live to 120? Here I come!

We're all getting older. And in the U.S., the population is aging pretty quickly.

Obesity, sedentary lifestyles and all, we can expect to live longer than ever.

An American boy born in 2008, for instance, can expect to live to the ripe old age of 75, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For girls, it's 80. Back in 1960, a newborn boy could expect to hit about 67, while a baby girl would probably reach 73, on average.

Now that scientists are starting to build human organs from stem cells and do-it-yourselfers are turning to 3-D printers to replace lost hands, it doesn't seem completely crazy to imagine living wayyyy longer. How about 120, or even older? Are you ready for that?

Well, the folks at the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project asked a bunch of Americans (more than 2,000 all told) how they feel about the prospect of really old age. And the answers might surprise you.

/ Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center

A majority — 56 percent — say they aren't interested in medical treatments that would let them live to see 120. Thirty-eight percent think it's a fine idea.

An interesting twist: 68 percent of respondents figure that most people would like to live that long, even if many of them wouldn't.

Despite the problems in the world, the people polled by Pew seem pretty optimistic. Nearly 7 in 10 expect most forms of cancer will be cured by 2050. Most people think medical progress that extends life is for the good. And when it comes to having more elderly people around, more than 80 percent say it's either a fine development or at least won't be a bad thing, according to Pew.

So, how long do people say they want to live? Only 4 percent would like to live 121 years or longer. Same goes for living from 101 to 120 years. Most people seem content to contemplate a life that's as long or longer than the current average: 69 percent say living to be from 79 to 100 years old would be just fine.

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Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.