Are you ready for 100?
Get some insights from Andrew Scott, co-author of the book, “The 100-year life: Living and working in an age of longevity”, on how you can age well.
Andrew Scott’s book “The 100-year life: Living and working in an age of longevity” outlines “the challenges and intelligent choices that all of us, of any age, need to make in order to turn greater life expectancy into a gift and not a curse”. Here in Singapore, we have the highest life expectancy in 2017 with an expected lifespan at birth of 84.8 years.
Ageless Online chats with Scott about his book and how we can get some tips on ageing well. He is also a professor of economics at the London Business School and a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford University and the Centre for Economic Policy Research. He was in town last year as part of a panel discussion on longevity organised by Prudential:
Living till a 100. The previous generations never thought this would happen as they would pass on way before that time, but now this idea is becoming more of a reality with more and more people living past 100. Your thoughts on this?
Every generation is living nearly a decade longer than past generations. Singapore in particular has one of the highest life expectancies as well as one of the fastest growing. Who knows if this trend will continue but the reality is that children born in Singapore today have to plan for a life expectancy much greater than their parents or grandparents did. Living into your 80s is common place, into your 90s, realistic and a 100, feasible.
But if living to such an age brings many years of dependency, who would want a 100-year life?
The proportion of life that is healthy has remained roughly the same. So, most of these extra years of life are healthy. Therefore, the years of independence have increased more than the years of dependency. This is a tough trade-off to deal with but the more we all make better years of the extra years of healthy life, the more chance we have of experiencing fewer years of dependency. We need to restructure the life course to support much longer healthier and fulfilling lives.
And with this, people in many countries including here in Singapore won’t have enough money to finance those extra years. What other challenges besides the finance part do you see in a 100-year life? What advice would you give people to overcome these challenges?
In general, we have structured our life to finance a 70-year life and that is proving inadequate given the rises in life expectancy that has happened. Longer working careers are inevitable if people aren’t prepared to spend less over their life. However, it is a mistake to think longer lives are all about money. As well as financial assets, it is important to focus on maintaining over your life your productive assets (your skills and knowledge), your vitality assets (your fitness, health and above all, relationships), and your transformational assets (your ability to deal with shifts in role, identity and purpose). Above all over life, it is necessary to keep searching for a form of purpose and engagement.
In your book, you brought up the idea of a multi-stage life, with repeated changes of direction and attention. Can you elaborate further and how this changes the idea that lives consist of three stages – education, work and retirement?
In the 20th century, a three-stage life began to emerge which saw the invention of new stages of life such as ‘teenagers’ and ‘pensioners’. Previously you moved from being a child to being an adult or invariably worked until you were incapable of doing so or died. As life expectancy rises, we cannot stretch out this three-stage life of education, work and retirement (earn, learn and retire).
If you are living for 100 years, you will need a 60-year career. There is no education you achieve at 20 that can support you through such a long career. Further as technology replaces jobs, the idea of staying in one job for 60 years becomes outdated. Further, a 60-year career doing the same thing even if feasible is not good for your mental health or relationships. You need to take time-out – to take breaks, relearn or even repurpose.
We are already seeing the three-stage life break up and be replaced by a multi-stage life with different career stages with different ambitions and different roles with transitions in between. This change is most marked as people work for longer or ‘unretire’, or young adults embark on their careers later, but is also increasingly shifting the career patterns of those in middle age.
But with all this, you need money so in other words, those who are rich will live longer lives compared to the poor and we will see their extra years more of a blessing than a burden. Your thoughts on this inequality?
There is already a growing inequality in life expectancy between low- and high-income individuals. Age is malleable, and income and education help support different lifestyles and on average, longer and healthier lives. As with the three-stage life, our current institutions, policies and practices are inadequate to deal with the realities of longer lives. Focusing on closing the gap between the healthy life expectancy of the rich and poor has to be a major policy focus but will also be a major challenge for policymakers.
Just as public health campaigns brought about major improvements in health and life expectancy in the 20th century, the same needs to be achieved today. The challenge is that health ageing is much about preventative measures rather than interventions and that requires a major reorientation of our health systems.
There is also a mention of the importance of a partner to help live more cheaply than individuals living apart. Your thoughts?
Obviously, a two-adult household makes finances and living easier. However, the real gains from relationships (partner and children) is that it tends to correlate with longer, happier lives and of course, also creates support for caring, etc. Longer multi-staged lives will however put great pressure on relationships as life lengthens, and roles and identities change more frequently.
So, if one wants a 100-year life, what are some things they should be doing to set them up properly on such a path?
Most people want a long, healthy fulfilled life. The 20th century discovered that age is to a degree malleable – we can influence how we age. Some of that we know already – smoking and drinking are bad for you, being overweight and not exercising are bad too. Being curious, ensuring that there are activities (work or non-work) that you wish to be engaged in and that keep you mentally and physically active, and part of a community are also all crucial.
The key is that in the longer lives we are living, we have to find new ways of behaving. At every age, we have more years ahead of us than our parents did, we need to be more forward-looking. You are in a sense younger than past generations of your age cohort. Recognising that you need to behave differently, invest in your future (not just money but skills, relationships and engagement) and that over a longer life, you need to be able to accept change and shifts in your own role and identity more, so don’t get bogged down in habits that restrict a sense of playfulness and change.