Work until 80, live until 100: We're living longer, but can we cope?

A few months back I shared the stage with Lynda Gratton, co-author of The 100-year Life: living and working in the age of longevity. A passionate academic, Gratton is a Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and had the entire room energised at the prospect of living long and prosperous lives.

Gratton and her co-author Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics at the same school, believe life expectancy will continue to rise by two to three years a decade, to the point where a baby born in a developed country today will likely live beyond 100 years. You can assess the resources you might need for a 100-year life by clicking here.

Listening to this hypothesis, I couldn't help but 'drift off' and pontificate that if the chances are rising that many more people will live to 100 years, a number of areas need to be re-addressed.

Adding new stages of life

"Previous generations followed a three-stage life: education, career and retirement. If living to 100 does become the new norm, we are going to need a fundamental redesign of life. The children of today will need to work until around 80 to enable them to retire on adequate pensions," commented Gratton.

Gratton and Scott talk about a new stage between 18 and 30 years, where more people now focus on transitioning from education to full-time work. "This age bracket has been the quickest to catch on to this gift of extra life years with many young people travelling and experimenting, trying to work out how they are going to spend the next seven decades".

If living to 100 does become the new norm, we are going to need a fundamental redesign of life.

Lynda Gratton

Does this mean the old adage where you'd finish school, enrol in a trade or a degree, then lock yourself into a career path is a thing of the past? It does make you think about exploring so many of the opportunities that life possesses. I have three friends right now in their late twenties who have put careers in banking and professional services on hold to squeeze in a 'gap year' travelling and exploring the world.

Question: Why do we have gap years at 18? Why not have a gap year at 32, or 43, or at 65?

The way we learn

If, as the authors predict, we will need to work until 80 years of age to ensure we have enough money left for retirement, that leaves another 37 years of my working life – yeesh!. Should I be looking at studying again and positioning myself for an entirely new career, or do I need to arm myself with a completely new range of skills?

"In the ongoing debate about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning it is becoming clear that the 'softer skills' like curiosity, empathy, compassion and collaboration will become crucial. But what is less clear is the learning infrastructures that will support these skills" said Gratton. "To continue to be productive into our 80s we will have to up-skill, re-skill and re-learn. I think the next big push is the 80s actually".


Question: What other opportunities do you have to learn and grow? Is there a degree or a course you have been wanting to enrol in? And what careers in the future will be prosperous and well paid? How will you stay fit and healthy?

Growing pains

You're not just going to live to 100 because you are 'lucky' to be alive right now. A healthy diet, regular exercise, managing stress, proper sleep and recovery, moderating alcohol intake, not smoking or abusing other substances, keeping your brain flexible (through constant learning) and alive (through experiences), and making sure you have fun in your life are all key ingredients to a healthy, prosperous life.

In my presentation after Prof. Gratton, I posed the question: "What's the point of living a 100-year life if you are highly medicated and in pain for the last three or four decades? We need to follow healthy habits to live younger, longer."

Question: What is your health and fitness like right now? And do you need to make some lifestyle changes so you too can live younger, longer?

Reframe longevity as a gift

I really like this positioning. I have clear memories as a six-year old staying on my grandparent's farm outside Wagga Wagga. They were discussing a number of their friends who were "getting old, moving off the land and into retirement homes".

We used to think 60 or 70 was old age, this repositioning means at 60 or 70 you still have one third of your life left to live. I have fitness mates nearing their sixties who I cycle with every Friday morning and they have as much energy as many of the 30 and 40 year olds in our squad.

"We need to reframe longevity as a gift, rather than a curse, focusing on how we can live in happy and productive ways" says Gratton.

Question: How many more years of opportunity do you have to travel, to learn a language, to play an instrument, to do something entirely different?

Over to you now: Does the prospect of living a 100-year life change the way you think about work, study, relationships, travel, health and life? Let Andrew know in the Comments section.