Imagine a present or near-future setting where there is a breed of humans (lets call them elves) that can live up to around 400-500 years old. After puberty, their life is simply extended.

These long-lived people would impact the economy, from retirement plans to life insurance to healthcare to inheritance to a black-widow opportunist that just outlives her husbands. Assume they have the same rights as others.

What would be the impacts, and what laws or measures could be taken to lessen the impacts?

I am still unsure if they are a separate ethnic group or random births among human population. If it makes a difference in your answer, you can assume one or another. Also, they are no different physically from a human. Only genetic testing (and the obvious fact that they look 4 to 5 times younger than their age) can distinguish them.

But the world has been aware they exist for some time, and all those "are they human, do they have rights/soul/go to hell/heaven" discussions have already been settled. They are people, they can suffer some prejudice from random groups, but the population at large know they exist, and have adapted to them. My question is about this adaptation, in the economy dimension.

These measures should not create a second-grade citizenship between the elves and normal humans.

  • $\begingroup$ So you're saying that the general public us aware of these long lived humans? $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2015 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @IsaacKotlicky Yes, I am still unsure if they are a separate ethnic group or random births among human population. But people are aware they exist for some time, and all those "are they human, do they have rights" discussions are already settled. They are people, they can suffer some bias from random groups, but the population at large know they exist, and have adapted to them. My question is about this adaptation, in the economy dimension. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2015 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ The "elves" (no, they do not have pointy ears or any elvish feature, but the media coined them such) are recent. Nobody knows why, the first children were born in the early XX century, but their numbers were too small then to make them noticeable until after the turn of the millenium. - I am posting this as a comment so not add much noise to the answers already posted. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2015 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ You should instead ammend your question, instead of adding a comment $\endgroup$ Mar 21, 2015 at 5:52

4 Answers 4


Retirement Plans

Obviously retirement vesting would have to change. The long-lived would have to work a good four hundred years before retiring for the system to have any chance of working. Since the long-lived would outlive many corporations and some governments, it is less likely that they will accept defined benefit plans and more likely that they will do their own saving.

Young Adulthood

You say that aging slows after puberty. For our purposes, consider young adulthood to end at twenty-five. So how long does it take to get to twenty-five in development? The same twenty-five years? Seventy-five is probably about right if it's proportionally longer after puberty. Anything in between can be justified.

If young adulthood is longer, then something special will have to be done to handle things like voting and the drinking age. Otherwise, you'd have the equivalent of a fourteen-year old able to vote and generally make adult decisions. Can't drink until the equivalent of fifteen.

It's also unclear how much of age is experience versus physical changes.


Accidents will almost certainly stay the same on an annual basis after the initial adjustment (accidents are more common among the young and then drop around twenty-five). The much longer adulthood gives far more time to have accidents, so fewer would die of old age.

Life Insurance

Life insurance would be cheaper on an annual basis but more expensive on a lifetime basis. Not much if any cheaper during most of adulthood but distinctly cheaper during the senior years. Note that this is for term life insurance. Whole life insurance spreads costs out better, so it would be cheaper sooner.


Well, accident costs will increase. As will many diseases.

It's unclear how it will affect healthcare otherwise. Will cancer rates, etc. stay the same? If so, healthcare would get more expensive as cancer's a cumulative probability. The longer you live, the higher your chance of getting cancer.

Another possibility is that the chance of getting cancer over a lifetime will stay the same. So it will get cheaper on an annual basis while keeping a similar lifetime cost.

I'm assuming that aging related diseases will stay proportionally the same. So Alzheimer's, etc. won't take effect until proportional ages. These will increase in absolute terms but take a similar portion of lifetime earnings.


There would be many challenges in a marriage between the short and long-lived. That distinguished older gentleman that she married becomes the seemingly younger partner. She wants to retire, but he's still in his prime earning years (with a hundred year retirement for which to save).

How long do their children live? Are they short, long, or medium-lived? If medium, we have a whole new problem as that makes the actuarial tables even more complicated. Do all five eighths long-lived people live similar spans? Or do some live close to short spans while others live close to long spans? Can they even have children?

Note: it would be fine for the children to be either short or long-lived depending purely on random chance. How that might feel for the children could make for interesting subplots. Perhaps the eldest is seventy-five but looks twenty-five while the seventy-four year old sibling looks like a grandparent.

How would long-lived parents of a short-lived child feel? One long-life can easily produce eight short generations, outliving four or five. Perhaps two long-lived parents always produce a long-lived child. Although if that's so, the long-lived population would tend to increase relative to the short-lived population. They can have more children for a smaller investment of their lifetime. Perhaps modern birth control would slow that.


Would parents abort children who aren't long-lived? If it's genetic, it seems like it would be testable. This sounds like something controversial. Note that some nations ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus.


Our inheritance laws are pretty flexible if you leave a will. This may impact spousal relationships though. How will a short-lived family feel to see their memorabilia going to someone who is not a blood relative who may not pass them on for generations? Also, how will things like family businesses work? One long-lived partner may live through generations of short-lived partners.

Inheritance laws that are pitched towards making sure that wives have something after their husbands die may change to add additional flexibility in the case of mixed marriages. Should a short-lived child who will be dead before the spouse is ready for retirement be able to get an inheritance now rather than never?

How Long?

How long has this been happening? People from the sixteenth century could still be alive.

Resistance to Change

The long-lived may be more resistant to change than others. The old are traditionally more conservative. The long-lived have more time to be set in their ways, and their ways may have developed centuries ago.

Judicial Appointments

Many judicial positions have lifetime terms. A long-lived judge might easily have been appointed hundreds of years ago. Perhaps they still remember slavery as a part of normal life. Perhaps the entire Supreme Court would be long-lived. Stable but very static. The Dred Scott justices could still be on the bench.

Concentration of Wealth

The long-lived may accumulate wealth over time. Since they rarely die, this may tend to concentrate wealth. For example, consider where we'd be if John D. Rockefeller was still alive. Also, the long-lived need to have more money, because they stay retired as long as five short-lived people.

This might create pressure for wealth taxes in addition to income taxes. Income taxes keep the rich rich and the poor poor. Wealth taxes attack concentration of wealth directly. However, wealth taxes also work against saving, encouraging immediate consumption.

  • $\begingroup$ You raise some very interesting points. I do not know how acceptance works in this SE, so I will hold the green checkmark for a while. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2015 at 3:09

A typical life span of an 'elf'

An incredibly important question to answer is how their learning capacity changes over time. At the speed of modern development humans have trouble coping with all the changes in society by the time they hit around the 40 or 50 year mark. Now, intuitively you might think that this would be similar to the 250 year mark for such an 'elf', but realistically speaking they would get 'stuck in time' just as much as the rest of us provided they don't have a significantly differently functioning brain (e.g. in one short story I wrote ages ago you had semi-immortals whose memory would only span the last 100 years and thus never got bored (or out-of-date)).

What would this practically mean? Their lives would typically be pretty similar the first 70 years or so, but after that point the jobs they would do would relatively speaking become simpler and lower class.

Now, of course 'elves' would somewhat adapt by choosing their specializations a lot more carefully then the rest of the humans and there are definitely some jobs more suited to 'elves' than humans (e.g. historians), but what you have to realize is that even those jobs would become more and more difficult and technology advances and they are virtually incapable of using whatever the smartphone or computer equivalent is in 300 years. True, you would have exceptions like celebrities or people who have hit the jackpot in some other way, but even those are in general subject to the whims of time.

Effect on the economy

So, combine advances in technology causing more and more automation and the last few lower class jobs being taken by the 'elves' (as they could get the jobs before any competition was even born in the first place) this would leave no lower class jobs for the rest of society. In one extreme you could get a lot of pressure to make work optional in the first place (thus the majority would just get a minimal salary from the government) or the opposite extreme is that everybody of low intellect just dies of as they don't have the brains to keep up. Whatever direction you decide to go, it's mostly down to choices you simply have to make which have little to do with the 'elves' themselves and instead their presence just accelerates certain typical issues you have to think about when building a scifi world.

So, what simple changes can be predict?

Life-long subscriptions/positions/etc. - Anything that's typically for the rest of your life will start to specify specific lengths instead. So you won't get updates to your application for the rest of your life and instead just for x years. Nor will you be a judge for the rest of your life, but instead you will be appointed for the next 100 years (why not for the rest of your life? Because the world changes and you don't want to get stuck with incompetent people).

Life insurances - Provided 'elves' can just as easily die of injury as humans do it will be a 'simple' recalculation of the risks involved, but in the end nothing really changes (the value of the life of an elf would be slightly higher than of a human life, though by the logic explained in the first parts of the answer it would be as much as you might intuitively expect).

Children caring for their parents? - If I understand it correctly this 'elf'-condition is non hereditary and occurs randomly. In that case the children of an 'elf' will of course die before their parents which will cause a lot of pressure in cultures where there is still an expectation to take care of your parents as children (unlike western societies where we simply lock our parents up in elderly homes or have them euthanized).

Inheritances - Would an 'elf' parent be allowed to 'gift' a child 'early' his inheritance without paying the huge tax penalties that come with gifting?


First, you don't say what percentage of the human race this group is. If it is like 1 in 1,000,000 (or less) it will be different than if it is 1 in 1,000 or more.

There is also parenting, a woman could have 200+ years to produce offspring, a man (in theory) 4-500. Either could marry 5+ different (normal) spouses for 50 years each! Though it might be weird/terrible having your wife/husband age away, and many of your children die before you start to look old. This would likely cause many to seek each other out (especially after the first relationship when one discovers that they are long lived.

If they are very rare, then they will likely have a small impact on an economy unless they actually try to do so. As you pointed out they would have a much longer lifetime to accumulate wealth and be able to enjoy it. However, most people are not very good money managers. I would expect that however many there are %90 or more would die between penniless and a reasonably comfortable nest egg.

Now the 1-5% that are driven and capable can make a difference, though after the first 100 years they would likely take a seat behind the curtain so others really don't know how much influence they have over how much. They would work with proxies and likely be extremely powerful, maybe even buying a small country or two.

Dictators that happen to be 'blessed' with this gift could see their countries become the 'utopia' they dream of, though having a much longer life expectancy means they have a much greater chance of assassinations.

Now if the long-lived are a significant number of the population, then they will tend to gravitate to positions of power, both in government and business (there will just be enough with the 'drive' to take over) and as we can all see, those with power generally use it. So the long lived will not be '2nd class citizens', ever. Quite likely they will become the 'elite' whatever the rules/laws say.

Also remember most governments today have been around for less than half that 500 year life time. These people will see governments come and go, and being the 'wise ones' who've seen it all, will also help gravitate power in their direction.


There would be a second grade citizenship for somebody.

My first reaction to the scenario is that unless it is an occasional aberration between two short lifers, the elf people are going to become the dominate species on the planet. It will go from humans liking the new elves, but as the elves become more prominent in society, the humans will start to become more biased toward them, because the elves represent a threat. And the elves will start to become more bias towards the human, considering them something less then an elf.

Whatever it is that makes the elves live longer is in their genetics. Elves would tend to mate with elves since they would want their children to live as long as they did. Maybe not so much at first because there are not many elves to pick from and humans and elves still get along pretty good. However as time passed and more elves were around they would tend to mate with each other with more frequency.

My rudimentary understanding of how cells work, is that cells contain a clock work of sorts and a mechanism that limits the number of times a cell splits. When the mechanisms fail, we develop cancer. Essentially the cells reproduce erratically and grow into tumors and such. The elves would simply have this cancer like quality to their cells, but instead of the cells growing into unhealthy body mass they would be healthy cells that kept the elves healthy, young looking and long living. The traits that made this possible would need to be passed on from elf to elf with reproduction.

The elves would first segregate from the humans in small and large ways than they would dominate the humans and eventually the humans would become so marginalized that they would cease to exist as a society and eventually die out. It would be an evolutionary event, similar to others in human evolution were the once dominate humanoid just became a trace in our genes.

Two things are very strong factors in the elves coming to dominate just by virtue of their long life spans, Acquisition of wealth and power, and reproduction. Humans will simply not have the time the elves do to do these things. When resources become scarce, and they well, the elves will win the day and eventually the world. Human kind will have evolved in to elves, and the short lived will be no more.

Society would be very different then it is now. Marriage would be out, retirement would be different depending on the resources society has. It would be difficult for most of the people to acquire enough wealth to retire for a long period toward the ends of their lives.

  • Marriage

This is an institution that will dramatically change. It will not be idealized as the lifetime commitment that it is now. It will be some kind of commitment that is relatively short compared to ones life span. It may not exist at all. Elves will engage for a few decades to a one night stand to reproduce. How long they might stay a family would just depend. But certainly with youthful urges not many are going to last for the 4-500 year duration of life. It maybe something you do many times over the course of a life. With the number of children possible to have and the number of decedents possible to be living during your time family is going to take on whole new dimension's that may or may not be important to a elf.

  • Retirement-work-death

Retirement at the end of a long life like we know it now is simply not going to happen for most people that live 4-500 years. The genetic clock running out is not likely to be the cause of death for most people. Untimely deaths due to accidents and disease will kill many more people then old age. Planning for retirement may very well be considered an exercise in futility for most people.

It is extremely difficult to come up with a number for people that die accidentally. About 250,000 of 2.4 millions of Americans who die, die accidentally each year. Of everyone who dies in a developed country, 7 out of ten of those deaths are people over the age of 70. With that in mind we can say that accidents and disease account for about 30% of the death rate each year, or about 800,000 people die of the 300,000,000 in the US. If your multiply the one third of a percent that dies of unnatural causes each year you have roughly 3% of a population dead every decade, about 30% every century who die from accidents and disease. We could lower that figure by removing a lot of deaths that occur from heart attack, making an assumption that we would not tend to drop dead from heart attack so much because at fifty we would have the hearts of twenty year olds. And perhaps when you add war into the equation the rate might go up. If you consider super bugs that are making antibiotics less effective, then the figure might go up to plague like stats in some years. Over the course of 500 years a lot of things can happen that make it the exception to live to be a 500 year old.

This kind of begs the question, at what age does social security kick in?

Anyway back to retirement, you would not retire. At some point in your life you might become disabled, unable to work and there would be some program to take care of you.

For most people, depending on how mundane the job is, short retirements more akin to sabbaticals would be the norm. You might take a couple of years off to play. You may after fifty years in a job decide to change careers and go back to school for a decade then get a new job. You might sell a business and be able to cruise for a couple of decades, dabbling in shuffle board and basket weaving until the money ran out. You may just have a very good time with your career and never do much besides vacations.

  • Medicine-Health

The emphasize would shift from end of life medicine to quality of life medicine. Research would be mostly in accessing risk factors and mitigating those factors. Smoking would be abolished. Other risky behavior would also be looked on as much more serious. You would after all be risking a life that has the potential to last five hundred years as fairly healthy, rather then a life of 70 years that starts to degrade health wise the older you get. People would eat better to make sure their heart and other vital organs do not give out prematurely. Many drugs like ibuprofen for example, that have long term health risks like kidney damage would not be allowed. The elves have solved the biggest medial problem we face today, the genetic barrier to a long life. They would now focus on the other things that end life prematurely.

  • Law, Crime, Judicial

Law is going to go through changes as the ratio between elves and human changes. At some point as the group of elves grows larger and the fear of them becomes more real, the laws against them will start to resemble the racial laws of the south, the Nuremberg laws of pre WWII Germany and other status against groups in other countries. This still will not stop the eventual outcome of the elves becoming the dominant humanoids on the planet. At some point the balance will tip in favor of the elves, and they will do about the same to the humans as the humans had done to them.

This may not only be in legal matters it may be that this leads to war like conflicts at about the time the two powers are about equal. Still the elves will come out ahead, just because they can produce many more battle worthy citizens for soldiering then the humans can out of about the same size population. Any population that the elves loose during a war can be replaced much more robustly.

Crime and punishment for elves will be much different from today. The main problem being is locking someone up for life. Can they afford to keep someone in prison for five hundred years? Or would this mean that rehabilitation takes on a new urgency and meaning.

Term limits for judges and politicians would become the norm.

  • Insurance

unfortunately, there will always be insurance salesman and adjusters to make sure your wasting your money.


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