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The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.:

Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott


IT USED to be rare to live to 100. But the progress of science has meant that over the past two centuries every year has added three months to average life expectancy, at least in rich countries. If 'The 100-Year Life' by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott is correct, half the children born in the rich world today are likely to live to 100.

Predicting future life expectancies is not easy. Some say there are fundamental limits to the continued extension of the average lifespan, and that further gains may become disproportionately hard to achieve. It is certainly true that reducing child mortality or cardiac diseases in middle age - the low-hanging fruit of increased longevity - have all been reached.

How to look after all these elderly folk is a different problem. Governments around the world are already struggling to support growing numbers of retired people who depend on a shrinking working population. Eighteen OECD countries have raised pension ages. At the same time, workers are being asked to dig deeper into their own pockets. None of this is enough.

The book suggests that even greater difficulties lie ahead. Looking at three hypothetical people, born in different eras, the authors map out the scale of the problem and what it might mean for a working life. Jack, born in 1945, worked for 42 years and was retired for eight. He had to save only a small percentage of his salary in a pension every month, which was topped up by the government and by his company. Jimmy was born in 1971 and has a life expectancy of 85. If he works for 44 years and retires for 20, he will be likely to need to save a whopping 17% of his income during his working life. From here the numbers grow more unsettling. Jane, born in 1998, will need to finance 35 years of retirement on the same 44 years of work. This will mean she must save 25% of her income - an improbable sum given other commitments such as mortgages, university fees and child care. The upshot of all of this continued extension of longevity is that working to 70 or even past 80 may not only become less unusual, but may be necessary in the future.

While one can certainly quibble with the assumptions built into each of these scenarios, the scale of the problem is perfectly clear. It is going to be nearly impossible for workers to save enough money during the current span of a working life to fund retirements of increasing length. And if people have to work longer, it is unclear whether their education or the places where they work are geared to support such a future.

How best to adjust education so it prepares the youth of today for longer working lives and many different jobs? Online courses and retraining are becoming increasingly popular - and increasingly important - for this reason. But universities may need to rethink the model of handing a big dollop of education once, in youth, and forcing graduates to repay that cost over decades. If people must retrain throughout their lives, as well as save more for retirement, a costly, one-shot education at the start might become an unmanageable burden.

The authors use a little too much management-speak. Even so, the book is useful. Too few people are considering the issue that if the world is unprepared, longevity will be both a gift and a curse.

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