The New Long Life

By: Andrew J Scott

Demographers have long warned that the world is going through a transition towards an ageing society. Declines in the birth rate, more people living into old age combined with increases in lifespan mean that for the first time ever there are now more people globally aged over 65 than under 5.

The common view of this phenomena is to look at the change in the age distribution of society and focus on the new needs that arise when there are more older citizens. There is however an alternative perspective. Instead of looking at the cross section of the population by age we can view these trends from the viewpoint of an individual. What these statistical trends imply is that every one, regardless of age, has more life ahead of them than past generations could have expected.

That longer future requires rethinking how we structure the life course and behaving differently around education, health, work, careers, relationships and community. In fact, many of the current problems of an ageing society emerge precisely because these changes haven’t happened, revealing social and institutional practices that do not support well the length of life that so many are now living.

In “The New Long Life – A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World” (written with my London Business School colleague Lynda Gratton) I consider what that restructuring may imply. In particular the book focuses on how two trends – longer life spans and AI and robotics -will interact and drive this restructuring.

It is striking how much of our social patterns are still driven by developments in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. The separation of work and leisure, home and workspace, the emergence of a three stage life and the creation of retirement all emerged as society adapted to the convulsions and opportunities that new technologies created.

Projecting forward the impact of technology and longevity suggests deep changes in these institutions. Life and working careers will elongate, those careers will become more multi staged, what you do in your job and the skills you need to perform them will change. Together all these forces require changes in how we think about different stages of live and how we invest in our future health, skills, finances and relationships. To ensure we seize the opportunities of longer lives and smart technologies its also crucial that we see changes in how governments, corporates and our educational systems support us through the life course.

What is striking is how Covid has accelerated these trends around technology and an ageing society. However, as well as acting as an accelerant Covid has served as a stress test, revealing how poorly some societies are prepared and within society who is best placed to seize opportunities.

The good news is that society has shown how much it values older citizens by deliberately triggering the worst recession in more than 300 years in order to save mainly older lives. It has also kickstarted a new social narrative that challenges simple minded approaches around ageing based solely on chronological age. Both at an individual and a public health level the agenda around precautionary health has also been advanced.

On the negative side though Covid appears to be a major set back to an agenda supporting working for longer. High unemployment and age discrimination in hiring is a major problem in seeking a longevity dividend. The virus has also revealed all too clearly how large inequalities are across different groups. If society is prepared to pay a large economic cost to save lives consistency, this requires a major effort at removing those inequalities going forward.

Above all, the crisis has shown that GDP is not the ultimate metric by which governments should be judged in the years ahead. Healthy life expectancy and measures that focus on safety and mental wellbeing are paramount in judging how well we make the transition to a new long life.

 

Andrew will be speaking at the virtual launch of a new international programme of work we are doing in collaboration with IRC4HR to support better longer working lives and identify solutions to the challenges faced by older workers. Hold the date for 20 August 2020. More information to follow soon.

Andrew J Scott is Professor of Economics at London Business School and a Consulting Scholar at the Stanford Longevity Centre. He is the author of “The New Long Life” and “The 100 Year Life”.

Twitter @ProfAndrewScott

His recent book, The New Long Life is available here.

Prof Andrew Scott

Prof Andrew Scott

Professor of Economics, London Business School

Andrew Scott is Professor of Economics at London Business School having previously held positions at Harvard, London School of Economics and Oxford.

He has published widely in leading international academic journals and his book, The Hundred Year Life, is an international bestseller having been published in 14 languages and received several awards.