The future of aging

What impact might the expansion of health span have on society?

In a future of health focused on preventing disease, aging may no longer be defined by disease, but, rather, extended vitality. This shift could have far-reaching implications.

While longevity has increased in the last century, the years we have gained were not added to the end of life. Instead, says Dr. Laura Carstensen at the Stanford Center on Longevity, those “extra” years have been added to the middle of life. Still, today the average health span (age 63) stops more than a decade short of the average life span (age 79). But a future more focused on maintaining health and well-being, supported by radically interoperable data on health and lifestyle, could extend that time further.

As described in the Forces of change: The future of health, by 2040, we expect the consumer to be at the center of the health model. The onset of disease, in some cases, could be delayed or eliminated altogether—cancer and diabetes could join polio as defeated diseases.

In this future, the way people age could look very different than today. What will health care treat in this future? How will people work, retire, and pay for their later years? How will people live in their homes and in what types of communities? These are the questions we sought to answer through this research.

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To get insights on what the future of aging might look like, we spoke with 30 individuals in aging services, policy, innovation, and technology. We discussed how aging might change in that future, what is currently happening that points to those changes, and which societal, policy, scientific, technological, and economic factors will likely change along the path to 2040. From our interviews, we found several themes that we will highlight throughout the paper. In addition, we conducted secondary research to identify case studies of startups and companies doing work today that provide insights into the future.

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