It’s quite amazing to consider that in the United States, half of today’s 5-year-olds can expect to live to age 100. The extra years of life that we’ve gained over the past 100 years is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. However, these gains produce their own challenges—and opportunities.
The trouble is, current norms, expectations, employer practices, and government policies evolved when people lived, on average, about half as long. At an individual and collective level, we need to make some significant changes to successfully accommodate these additional years of life. If we don’t tackle these challenges, as a society, we’ll incur significant costs and disruptions, and we’ll lose numerous opportunities for enriching the lives of all our citizens.
To address both the challenges and opportunities that our gift of longevity creates, the Stanford Center on Longevity recently released a report titled “The New Map of Life.” This report identifies seven principles that can guide us if we choose to rise to the occasion.
Age diversity is a net positive
Communities, employers, and families will all benefit if we combine the energy and enthusiasm of younger people with the wisdom and emotional intelligence of older people. Instead of wringing our hands about the costs of an aging society, we can reap remarkable dividends from a society that is age diverse.
In the years ahead, employers might explore how different age groups can best learn and work together. Families might explore multigenerational living arrangements that benefit both young and old alike.
Invest in future centenarians to deliver big returns
The years between birth and kindergarten are the best time for children to learn the cognitive, emotional, and social skills they’ll need to succeed for a potentially long life. These skills will deliver benefits that can compound for decades, and they’ll help give children the resilience to recover from the setbacks that are inevitable for all people who live a long life.
Align health spans to life spans
Nobody wants to add extra years of frailty and dependence to their lives. We need to make investments in health that will accrue for people of all ages and from all walks of life. As the pandemic has demonstrated, we all pay for the setbacks encountered by people who are impacted by poverty, discrimination, and environmental damage.
Prepare to be amazed by the future of aging
Today’s 5-year-olds will benefit from significant future medical advances and emerging technologies. The speed at which the COVID vaccines were developed shows the potential that scientific advances have to diminish the negative impact of disease on our health and longevity.
Work more years with more flexibility
If you live to 100, it makes no sense to retire in your early 60s and not work for one-third of your life. It simply takes too much money to live exclusively for that long on financial resources you set aside during your working years. In addition, you’ll still have years ahead of you when you can be productive and contribute to society.
However, most people reaching age 60 don’t want to work at the pace of their earlier years, and they’ll want more flexibility and control over the hours and conditions under which they’ll work. A gradual exit from the workplace might be more beneficial for all concerned, compared to abruptly and completely leaving the workforce at a specified age.
Employers will need to adjust their human resource policies to accommodate all workers, not just older ones, who may want more remote work, or more flexible scedules, to accommodate their personal lives. Individuals will need to adjust their expectations and plans to accommodate the reduced income they might earn in exchange for this flexibility, particularly in their later years.
Learn throughout life
Simply put, you’re not finished learning when you graduate from high school or college—even today. If you’re currently in your 60s, imagine that you only know now what you learned back in high school and college, ignoring all the developments in our society and science since then. In this imaginary scenario, you wouldn’t know how to operate a cellphone, use personal computers and the internet, understand how to invest in IRAs or 401k plans, and so on.
We’ll continue learning at each stage of our lives, particularly as the rate of innovation accelerates. As a result, we’ll need to explore new options for learning outside formal educational settings.
Build longevity-ready communities
Our homes and communities have a strong influence on whether we get sufficient physical exercise and build crucial social connections, as well as supporting the life-long learning we need. We’ll need to be diligent about reducing the negative health impact of indoor and outdoor pollution that many homes and communities experience.
The New Map of Life report is an inspiring read that contains many more details, statistics, and insights on the challenges we face.
To build longevity-ready societies and communities, governments, employers, businesses, healthcare providers, insurance companies, developers, nonprofit organizations, families, and individuals all have significant roles to play. If we want to create a world that values and supports 100-year lives, it’s going to be a matter of all hands on deck!