Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series
Chapter 4: A biodemographic perspective on longevity and ageing
More humans are surviving to older ages than ever before. Because of this, the age structure of our species is shifting from young to old, a phenomenon referred to as population ageing. It is global in nature, uniquely human and has the potential to be the greatest challenge ever encountered by our species (Olshansky et al. 1993). The basis for this assertion is one of the tenets of ageing; namely, biological function (homeostasis) declines with advancing age at the same time as pathologies, fragility, frailty and disability increase (Carnes et al. 2008). This explanation reveals another challenge: population ageing is a demographic phenomenon while ageing is a biological phenomenon. Thus, addressing the societal consequences of ageing requires something that is very difficult to achieve – an integrated interdisciplinary approach (Olshansky and Carnes 2003). One of the biggest problems with interdisciplinary research is terminology. Different disciplines often use the same words for different phenomena, and this is particularly true in research on longevity and ageing. This chapter provides a perspective on the interdisciplinary research created by a melding of biology and demography referred to as biodemography (Carnes and Olshansky 1993). If disciplines were chemicals, the admixture of biology and demography has been an unstable and volatile elixir (Carnes and Olshansky 2007).
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