Retirees from the northern hemisphere are happily aging in southern countries such as Namibia

“Old age and prosperity are closely related”

Dear readers,
At first glance, these are merely two numbers: The average life expectancy of women in Japan is 86 years, whereas the average woman in Sierra Leone only lives to be 44 years old. But this is a huge difference, and it demonstrates the close relationship between old age and prosperity. To put it in more drastic terms, people from poor countries die sooner.

In Germany, the proportion of people over the age of 60 was about 17 percent in 1960. In 2020 that figure will be about 30 percent—and it will continue to increase. This development faces internationally operating companies such as Evonik with considerable challenges. How long should our employees work in the future? How can we optimally structure their working environment? And where can we find talented and well-qualified employees in the future?

The social challenges we face are obvious: Our social welfare systems must care for increasing numbers of elderly people, and the need for well-trained and sensitive caregivers can hardly be met as it is. In Japan, this caregiving is increasingly being carried out by robots (page 16). Some people are fascinated by this technology, but others are repelled. For example, the homes for seniors in Namibia are doing very well without any robots. The people we visited for our article “Retirement in Africa” told us they are now experiencing something they had missed in their countries of origin: respect and appreciation for the elderly.

Henning Scherf, a former mayor of Bremen, is 78, but he doesn’t seem the least bit elderly and is a splendid debate partner. He has some very definite ideas about the role that older people ought to play in our society and about the public policies that must be implemented in order to create the right framework for this role. Scherf doesn’t care whether his positions contradict those of his political party or of labor unions. His arguments refer only to active aging itself, rather than dealing with current policies.

Even though today many people are enjoying a much healthier old age than was the case in the past, the biological limits of old age cannot be pushed back arbitrarily. The gerontologist Karl Lenhard Rudolph estimates that this limit is 120 years at the most. The Frankfurt-based photographer Karsten Thormaelen has created a photo series of people who have already celebrated their 100th birthdays. His sensitive portraits reveal the dignity and beauty of old age. These faces reflect an entire century, and they should encourage us to reconsider the idea that our lives consist mainly of a struggle against the march of time. After all, a zest for life does not depend on an individual’s age.

Christof Endruweit, Editor in Chief