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The 100 Year Life: How to make longevity a blessing, and not a curse

WHEN Poles want to wish somebody well, they wish them a hundred years of life. This is a charming prospect, as long as the chances of it coming to pass are vanishingly small. But once it starts to look as though it might actually happen, you may think that people should be careful what they wish for you.

As Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott make arrestingly clear in their book The 100 Year Life, it will take a lot more than good wishes to make sure that a hundred years is a blessing, not a curse.

Life expectancies have been rising by up to three months a year since 1840, and there is no sign of that flattening. Gratton and Scott draw on a 2009 study to show that if the trend continues, more than half the babies born in wealthier countries since 2000 may reach their 100th birthdays.

With a few simple, devastating strokes, Gratton and Scott show that under the current system it is almost certain you won’t be able to save enough to fund several decades of decent retirement. For example, if your life expectancy is 100, you want a pension that is 50 per cent of your final salary, and you save 10 per cent of your earnings each year, they calculate that you won’t be able to retire till your 80s. People with 100-year life expectancies must recognise they are in for the long haul, and make an early start arranging their lives accordingly.

But how to go about this? Gratton and Scott advance the idea of a multistage life, with repeated changes of direction and attention. Material and intangible assets will need upkeep, renewal or replacement. Skills will need updating, augmenting or discarding, as will networks of friends and acquaintances. Earning will be interspersed with learning or self-reflection. As the authors warn, recreation will have to become “re-creation”.

Life expectancies have been rising by up to three months a year since 1840, and there is no sign of that flattening. Gratton and Scott show that if the trend continues, more than half the babies born in wealthier countries since 2000 may reach their 100th birthdays.

The three-stage life of education, career and retirement that emerged in the twentieth century caused the pension industry to grow. The third stage wasn’t as established before. Without a pension system, some people had to work until they died. The word ‘pension’ changed its meaning to a source of income you get in that third stage.

With a few simple, devastating strokes, Gratton and Scott show that under the current system it is almost certain you won’t be able to save enough to fund several decades of decent retirement. For example, if your life expectancy is 100, you want a pension that is 50 per cent of your final salary, and you save 10 per cent of your earnings each year, they calculate that you won’t be able to retire till your 80s. People with 100-year life expectancies must recognise they are in for the long haul, and make an early start arranging their lives accordingly.

Clearly this will be expensive. As well as saving for retirement, people will need to pay for self-reflection phases and education. If you are, say, a hairdresser, you won’t need to worry too much about skills becoming obsolete. But you probably won’t be able to afford much self-renewal. Gratton and Scott point out the twofold inequality of lengthening lifespans: the rich live longer than the poor, and the better-off are better off in all the resources needed to make increasing longevity a blessing not a burden.

Even the better-off will mostly be stretched by the demands of the multistage life, though, and so the need for a good partner will loom ever larger. Although two can’t live as cheaply as one, they can live more cheaply together than apart. Crucially, too, partners will look to each other for financial cover when not earning.

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