We’re living longer, so why not cheer up?

JOE GILL: We’re living longer, so why not cheer up?

The most interesting and illuminating piece of data that surfaced over the holiday period was about life expectancy in Ireland, writes Joe Gill.

It seems that the average age of an Irish man has extended by three years to 79.9 in just a decade, while that of a woman has improved by two years to 83.6 years.

That is a remarkable change with profound consequences for society at a number of levels.

Moreover, it is a significant counterpoint to the screaming headlines that drown us, particularly across social media platforms, which seem obsessed with negativity.

Fact-based evidence remains the most powerful tool to combat a world of fake news and those who pedal bad news for commercial purposes.

If you had just listened to those voices in recent years, it would have been reasonable to think society was out of control, with natural disasters, terrorism and broken politics delivering a life of misery and doom for inhabitants all over the developed world.

That narrative is stopped in its tracks by these health facts for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is proof that applied research and forward-looking politics can have dramatic and positive effects on all citizens.

Research into the impact of smoking, combined with advances in treating heart ailments, when combined with government decision making, has a huge impact on outcomes.

It was an Irish government, using facts, that introduced a smoking ban that is now showing up in the health data.

Much of the money devoted to the health system, which we endlessly whinge and moan about, lies at the base of better results for people suffering from cardiac problems.

Cancer, strokes and heart attacks were and continue to be the key killers of citizens in peace time society.

However, the rate of mortality has fallen materially.

All of this provides reasons for optimism.

As the doomsday twitterati and tabloid editors return from Christmas to unleash another barrage of fatalism, think about what is actually probable over the coming year.

It is statistically probable that further advances in medical research that improve life outcomes will take place.

It is statistically likely that the economic wealth of Ireland and other countries will improve further. These ingredients, alone, suggest a better future but it will, as always, be full of challenges.

At home, the health system will need more resources to keep up with a population that gets bigger with more old people in it. Rising incomes will produce more families needing houses that are in short supply.

Transport pinch points will surface as more people go to work. Some will use all these issues to trigger protests, complaints and angry voices. Others will see it as part and parcel of managing an expanding population.

Imagine having a conversation 40 years ago with someone who is now gone. They would struggle to believe it as you explained that smoking has collapsed, air travel is commonplace, hip replacements for 80-year-olds are not uncommon, and almost everyone has a hand-held device that allows them communicate and conduct commerce with multiple other users.

These markers do not seem so significant when you are amidst them but over time they are powerful flags of progress.

So, Brexit, Trump, climate change, and supposed threats from Russia and China are the gang of issues that will be thrown at you once back to work next week.

Short days, very cold weather and the flu season will add plenty of reasons to think life is tough.

Yet, the hard undisputable facts are that our society has found solutions to keeping people healthier for longer than ever and that is a good reason to think positively about the new year.

Joe Gill is a director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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