Book Review - The 100-year life
How should we think about and plan for the prospect of a life that lasts a full century, or even longer? That is the central question of The 100-year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, which offers key insights for individuals, companies, educational institutions and governments on how to best respond to the consequences of increased human longevity. As academics at the London School of Business, authors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott focus on the financial, educational and career implications of a longer life.
One of the principal challenges of a long life, the authors say, will be saving enough to adequately finance a retirement lasting 30 to 40 years, should people stick to traditional patterns and retire at age 60-65. Indeed, many older people are already being forced to work longer, while governments are raising the pension age. Gratton and Scott calculate that a person born in 1998 would need to save some 25% of their lifetime income (working for 44 years) to finance a 35-year retirement – an improbably high percentage – should they conform to the widely accepted “three-stage” life structure comprising long stretches of education, employment and retirement.
Rather than being forced to spend decades in the same dreary career or eke out a long, poverty-ridden retirement, the authors urge individuals to be proactive and start planning for a multi-stage life – one in which they may initially be educated and follow a certain career for a few years, but then go on to pursue additional training and new careers, while also taking breaks to start a family, pursue hobbies or travel the world – or all of these. Plans could embrace long-existing passions, new interests, start-up businesses or require an entirely different education. In this way, they maximise the benefits of increased longevity rather than experiencing it as a “curse”.
Gratton and Scott consider the implications of this many-staged life on an individual’s personal relationships, observing that networking and friendships will become much more important as people seek to switch jobs, careers and even countries more often. The choice of a life partner may also increasingly depend on the partner’s willingness to coordinate careers and family demands over the years, so that one person can support the family financially during times when the other will be studying, training or taking a career break to raise children.
Educational institutions may find that people will consequently rely less on an extensive and costly early education. They will also need to evolve to accommodate growing numbers of older students – online and on campus. General ageism in the workplace will also need to be dealt with as companies hire older workers. With decades of experience, 60- and even 70-year-olds will have much to offer younger employees. Younger workers will also play an important role in keeping their elders youthful. Businesses will additionally have to introduce greater flexibility in working hours, out-of-office work, educational leave and other benefits as their staff cope with the demands of a longer life. More and longer weekends, they suggest, are likely to be devoted to “re-creation”, rather than recreation.
This book does paint a rosy picture of educated individuals with many opportunities ahead of them, with little focus on the less privileged. However, it would be a valuable eye-opener for any young person today when they start thinking about how best to achieve happiness and success in the many decades ahead of them.