Living to 120 and Beyond

Aug 06, 2013, 15:11 ET from Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life

New Survey Examines Public's Views on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- If new medical treatments could slow the aging process and allow people to live decades longer, to at least 120 years old, would you want to have the treatments? A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that most Americans (56%) say "no" – they, personally, would not want treatments to enable dramatically longer lives. But roughly two-thirds (68%) think that most other people would choose to live to 120 and beyond.

The survey explores the public's attitudes toward aging, medical advances and what some biomedical researchers call "radical life extension" – the possibility that scientific breakthroughs someday could allow people to live much longer than is possible today. Overall, more Americans think dramatically longer life spans would be bad (51%) than good (41%) for society.

The public also tends to view medical advances in general as good (63%) rather than as interfering with the natural cycle of life (32%). And the public is optimistic that some extraordinary breakthroughs will occur in the next few decades. For example, about seven-in-ten Americans think that by the year 2050 there will be a cure for most forms of cancer (69%) and that artificial arms and legs will perform better than natural ones (71%).

But there is skepticism that radical life extension will be possible anytime soon. Only a quarter of U.S. adults think that by 2050 the average American will live to be 120 years old; nearly three-quarters (73%) say this either "probably" or "definitely" will not happen. And, if it does happen, many Americans foresee both positive and negative consequences for society.

These are among the key findings of a new, nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. The survey was conducted March 21-April 8, 2013, on cell phones and landlines, among a nationally representative sample of 2,012 adults. The overall margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Together with the survey results, Pew Research is releasing two accompanying reports. "To Count Our Days: The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Radical Life Extension" presents an overview of the scientific research and the emerging ethical debate. "Religious Leaders' Views on Radical Life Extension" describes how some clergy, bioethicists, theologians and other scholars think their religious traditions might approach the issue.

The full report, background essay and views of religious leaders, along with an interactive, are available on the Religion & Public Life Project's website.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. Its Religion & Public Life Project seeks to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs.

Twitter: @PewReligion

SOURCE Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life