26th September 2016 at 3:00pm
We need to shake-up our thinking as reaching the age of 100 becomes the new normal, according to a new, best-selling book.
Children born today could live until they’re 105; and turning 100 is going to be the new normal for many.
That’s the premise behind ‘The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity’, by Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton.
It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking book by leading academics on the changes and challenges people face as more of us live considerably longer.
Children born today could live until 105
But what will life look like as we move on from the typical three-stage life of education, career and retirement to one where people may work for many decades, even until their 80s, intertwined with periods of upskilling and study?
If that sounds hard to believe, the FT highlighted in its review of the book that working until your 80s “would be a return to the past: in 1880, nearly half of 80-year-old Americans did some kind of work”.
Age brings big changes and big challenges
Longevity, as the book explores, has far-reaching consequences for quality of life, economics, health, relationships and much more. It’s not just about the future, seismic changes are already well underway, some of them positive.
Young people are feeling the winds of change and adapting how they live. They’re settling into careers later after spending their 20s studying and experimenting with jobs.
Longevity has far-reaching consequences
Many older people are choosing to work longer (way past what was once the ‘normal’ retirement age), and living healthy and fulfilled lives in ways previous generations could only dream of. Athletes in their 70s and 80s may still make the news, but they are far from unique.
That’s all good news but there are downsides. Professor Sarah Harper, a journalist, government adviser and a leading academic on ageing issues, highlighted her concerns in an article she wrote for The Guardian three years ago. As we face rapidly increasing life expectancy in the UK, she explained, “many are not saving enough to pay for a decent standard of living over a much longer retirement”.
The challenges we all face are ground-breaking and we need to be fully aware of them so we can take responsibility for our later lives, she implored.
We asked two of our colleagues who’ve written regularly – and passionately – on this issue for some of their thoughts.
The big issue: Is living to 100 a good thing?
Living longer and having the right quality, not just quantity, of life is going to be a challenge for many of us, as Julie Hutchison, charities specialist at Standard Life Wealth, explains.
“I remember my great-grandmother’s 100th birthday. Looking in from the outside, I saw a woman who could no longer speak, or get out of bed.
“I don’t know if she was happy: she may have been. But I do know that I hope not to be around on my 100th birthday and I’m not even sure how I feel about living to the age of 90.
“I expect my views will change on this as I get older (I’m just in my 40s) but, right now, it’s quality of life that matters most for me, and not the quantity of my years. I remember my great-aunt saying to me with a smile, ‘I wasn’t meant to be around this long’. There are some long-living genes in my family, as well as dementia: I hope to avoid both.”
The economics: How we fund our lives will have to change
Quality of life comes down partly to good health, but having enough wealth and managing a longer life is front of mind for John Brewer. He agrees there’s still a lot to do at a holistic level, including pensions and property and how changing demographics will affect people and their families.
“There’s been a big push on education but there needs to be more. We all need to do something and building up savings is going to be even more important. I believe it will increasingly mean families need to pool their wealth and manage family assets to meet their needs.
Quality of life comes down partly to health…but also wealth
“Even today, most people aren’t considering they might have to find £30-40,000 a year or more for care costs for each person. Will they have the assets to fund them?
“There will be strains on social care and demand could well exceed supply. There’s already something of a postcode lottery when it comes to care.
There will be strains on social care
“Thinking I might not have enough left to pass onto my son keeps me awake at night. More than anything, I don’t want my later life needs to dominate his. I don’t wish for a lifestyle that means I end up leaving him nothing. I’m considering how I can plan my finances with that in mind if I live until I’m 80, never mind 100.”
Things look very different for the haves and the have-nots
While some of us can look forward to a healthier, wealthier and happier long life, “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” does highlight how the chasm in life expectancy between the rich and poor will become more marked. Living longer and living healthily isn’t going to be easy for everyone.
As authors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton explain, others could be left behind to cope as best they can with poor health and transient jobs, before dying 20 years earlier than their richer counterparts, without a pension. For them the future looks more bleak.
What can we do about our aging society?
Saving more and being aware of how we might live our lives until we’re 100 is a big challenge to solve but it is about much more than money, of course. The need to manage people’s affairs as they age is going to become commonplace, and more pressing, adds John Brewer.
Living longer and living healthily isn’t going to be easy for everyone
“Taking steps such as setting up a Power of Attorney as a matter of routine will make even more sense. People are going to have to face up to the need to plan for, and embrace responsibility for, their longer lives.
Given the breadth of the topic, perhaps the last word should go back to Professor Harper: “The government has a key responsibility to ensure that we all are better informed about healthy life expectancies, pension projections, the likelihood of needing social care and its cost, and how best to use our assets.”
Taking responsibility, saving and being better informed is a good start; that much we can do.
“The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” by Bloomsbury.