More people are living to 100 years old. With so much more time on our hands, how do we make the best of our lives?
With more people worldwide living to 100 years old, it may not be the elderly who are most affected by greater longevity. It may be the middle-aged.
This is because society's prevailing model of the "three-stage life" - where education is followed by work, then retirement - may not be adequate to address current mid-life concerns, says longevity expert Andrew Scott, a British economist who includes himself in this demographic.
The professor of economics at London Business School is co-author of the book, The 100-Year Life: Living And Working In An Age of Longevity (2016). The other author is his London Business School colleague, Professor Lynda Gratton.
He was in Singapore this week for a panel discussion on longevity at the office of insurer Prudential at Marina One.
At the event, he also unveiled a paper he wrote, A Longevity Agenda For Singapore, which forecasts that by 2050, half the population here will be aged 65 and older. In Singapore, the statutory retirement age is 62.
Coming to terms with possibly living longer than past generations is not just a global, but a personal, challenge, for Prof Scott.
"On average, we're living longer and healthier. If you look at where these extra years of life will be felt, they won't come at the end of life, they'll come at the end of middle age.
"I'm 54 and I refuse to accept that I'm old. If I were to go back 50 years, 54 would be old and I would now be thinking about the end of my life," he lets on.
"Because of the gains in healthy life expectancy, I can expect another 20, 30 or more years of healthy life so I've got to reinvent myself and to look after myself more."
"Many people in their 50s haven't got a multi-stage life and they're going to have to get one. That's hard, especially if you've lost your job and you've got to take up further learning," he adds.
Unfortunately, he notes, many 40-and 50somethings he has met tend to be "despondent" at the prospect of working into their 70s or 80s.
But they need to embrace what lies ahead, he says.
"A three-stage life works well for (a life span of) 70 years. It doesn't work well if you stretch it to 100 years, mainly because your career would then last 60 years.
"It's the difference between running 10,000m and 30,000m. It has to be run differently," he says.
This difference, he suggests, could take the form of having more sabbaticals, breaks or more flexible work or sequencing life's milestones differently.
While Singapore is already a world leader in the field of longevity, with initiatives on preventative healthcare, for example, he hopes to see more longevity planning.
"In a country like Singapore, which has aged so rapidly, encouraging industries with age malleability - which tackles how we improve how people age - is important," he says.
This could take the form of developing "age tech", he says, referring to technology that "helps people remain independent for longer, whether it is Alexa telling you to take your pills or electric legs that make you walk".
His new book, A New Long Life, which will be out in May next year, will discuss the impact of the twin forces of technology and longevity.
It is again co-authored with his colleague, Prof Gratton.
But even when pushed, Prof Scott refuses to be prescriptive on how to plan one's best, potential 100-year life.
Instead, he will dwell only on the possibilities. Moving from a life span of 70 to 100 years old, is like having an additional 100,000 hours, he estimates.
"Imagine the day went from 24 hours to 32. How would you structure your day? Different people want different things. We've never had to live for 100 years before so this is about experimentation.
"Time is a social convention. In the 20th century, we invented the term teenagers. Before that, we had children and adults. It took about 60 years to work out what teenagers were.
"In general, however, if life lasts longer, at every age, you need to be more forward-looking and invest more in your future.
"While it means investing in your finances, it also means investing in your health, your relationships, your skills as well as your sense of engagement and purpose, because you're going to be working for longer," he says.
He already sees differences in how his three adult children are planning their "multi-stage" lives in a way that was not available to him.
He admits he was "cross" when his middle child, now 25, wanted to take a break of about three years to travel and try new interests after university.
He recalls: "I thought: 'Why am I so angry?' One reason was, I was jealous of my son.
"When I was that age, 21, I worked as an economist in an investment bank for a year. What a waste of time. Is my life better because I did that? No, of course not."
He was also worried because back in his day, it was a problem if one did not find a job immediately upon graduation.
"My son said, 'It's not like that, anymore, dad.' I said, 'Yes it is.' But three years later, he was in a training programme of a consulting company. I thought he would be one of the oldest in that programme but he was the youngest."
Prof Scott now concludes: "He's got to live his life in a very different way from me, but that makes sense. My father was married at 17, he had a child at 18 and a house at 19.
"I did all that in my mid-20s and my kids will do that in their early 30s.
"This is a long way of saying, because you've got this life expectancy that no one's had before, you've got to work at it yourself. My parent's generation thought life was 70 years long; my generation thought so too, but it's turning out to be 85 or 90."
The trouble, he says, is that planning for a multi-stage life is "counter-cultural", as age-based signifiers such as when one starts a career start to shift.
"It's particularly counter-cultural to the ethos of Singapore, which is, sort of, 'Get ahead, invest early'," he notes.
"There's this pressure where, you're 10, you've got to learn how to code in Python or you're 14, you get into the school that gets you to that degree.
"That doesn't seem right and it can't continue that way.
"The challenge we've got is, we're living to 100 years, potentially, but we're still structuring things around a three-stage life."
Another thing he advocates in his longevity paper on Singapore is greater "intergenerational fairness".
"Longevity looks at 'all of life', not just 'the end of life'. It's not about making the 60-year-olds have a better life.
"It's about how people at 20, 30, 40, 50 can have a better life," he says, citing as an example how people at different ages are encouraged to take up lifelong learning.
Increased segregation by age groups has led to distortions that create unnecessary conflict, such as pitting millennials and baby boomers against one another.
Individuals, companies and governments all have to grapple with the impact of longevity and how to plan a multi-stage life, he says.
"About 25 per cent of how we age is genetic. About 75 per cent is your behaviour and your own environment. One of the things that is terrifying is, I'm responsible for how I age," he says.
But there is a big silver lining to living to 100, he says.
"The good thing is, you can relax a little bit because you've got more time ahead of you."
HOW TO LIVE YOUR LIFE
How should we redesign our lives if we might live to 100? Professor Andrew Scott, an economist who co-authored the book, The 100-Year Life: Living And Working In An Age of Longevity (2016), offers some big ideas.
1. LONGEVITY VERSUS AGEING
In an ageing society, people tend to say, when we get old, what should we do? But longevity for me, is about the entire duration of life.
How can you live differently to make the most of having more time? Have you got the opportunity to eat well and exercise? Have you got good relationships?
You have to lay down some good habits for future years.
2. HEED THE WAKE-UP CALL
If we are living longer, we need to work for longer or we need to accept a lower standard of living. But if we are healthier for longer, we can be more productive for longer, too. If you are doing something in your mid-40s that you do not want to carry on doing, that is the wake-up call for you to change.
3. RELATIONSHIPS MAY CHANGE
Over a longer life, there is a lot more negotiation. Besides who is looking after the kids, you might enjoy working or you might want to travel. You have more choices in a multi-stage life. Relationships become more complicated.
4. DIFFERENT RETIREMENT AGES
We need tiered retirement ages because we age differently. Some people will need to retire at 60 because they cannot carry on working due to illness. Others will want to work till they are 90. We need a system that is flexible enough to deal with that.
5. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE MAY ADD VALUE TO SENIOR JOBS
In the United States and Europe, there are fears surrounding artificial intelligence, that our technology will rise up against us and cause us problems.
Clearly, some jobs will disappear, but new ones will be created. The jobs that are going to be in demand are those that focus on human skills: empathy, creativity, dealing with ambiguity. Many older people do this quite well. If you look at the data, teams that have older people perform better.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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