The Future of Ageing: there are new rules of living longer

Oct 20, 2015 | BLOG

By: Yvonne Sonsino, Mercer

This blog is one in a series of blogs on the Future of Ageing, published in the lead up to the ILC-UK Future of Ageing conference on the 24th November. To register to attend this conference, click here.

There are new rules of living longer…

Eleven of them to be precise, based on current life expectancy. But we may need to add a few more with hindsight and health technology. First new rule – you will be working longer to pay for that longer life. Just adding three years to your life expectancy (the difference between my daughter and her daughter’s average ‘vital’ statistics) could cost upwards of £130,000 in today’s money. In the UK, nine years of extra life have already been added since those retiring in the 1980s. Imagine if you add another 25 years. Or another 40. How much longer will you have to work? Will you ever be able to retire?

So if the first new rule of living longer is that you’ll be working longer – what’s the second? Well, the nature of work is changing too. Technology + Demographic Change = Life As We Don’t Know It Yet. So the question becomes less about how much longer will I be working and more about what will I be able to do? Skill-needs are changing. Technology is replacing jobs. A study in the US shows that accountants have a 97.6% chance of being replaced by robots. If technology doesn’t replace your job fully, it is going to feature highly in the future of work. You have to be realistic about whether or not you are skilled enough to meet these changing needs. Be honest – are you as fast as your kids at picking up digital skills? And to kids reading this – I know you are worried about how much faster those next in line are getting. And to all readers – let’s not forget how crucial experience and wisdom are in achieving good outcomes. Success in the future is not just about digital skills. New research shows that 53 is the optimum age at which intelligence and experience combine. Is this a nice half way point in our longer [working] lives perhaps?

Let’s skip straight to new rule number eight. It’s very close to my heart. Rule number eight is especially for women and I make no excuses for being so direct and discriminating. It’s quite simple – you will be living even longer. That means you will have more life to pay for. The gap in life expectancy may be narrowing slightly between men and women, but when you add up all the consequences of any gap at all, the picture is grim. Especially when you add in the gender pay gap. Financially, the average life expectancy gap and the average gender pay gap combined mean your pension will be about 40% lower than men. Not to mention the consequences of some, admittedly, generalisations that you may be alone for longer when you outlive your male partner and you may be the carer for family as well as for yourself.

The future of ageing holds more challenges than ageing itself. At least we know how to age – using the current definition of course. Some even know how to do it gracefully! But what we don’t know is how we will pay for extended life in future, or how much it will cost. Or what work will look like and how we get the skills to do that. The remaining new rules of living longer offer some suggestions to tackle the challenge. In time, they will simply become the new rules of living. 

Yvonne Sonsino, Mercer

Partnr and Innovation Leader, Mercer

Yvonne works on harnessing the impact of ageing workforces for competitive advantage and her first book, The New Rules of Living Longer, entered Amazon’s Top 20 Bestsellers list.