Interview with Dr. Andrew Scott, Professor of the London Business School and co-author of the book “The 100-Year Life and Living and Working in an Age of Longevity”.
What is the difference between aging and then longevity?
Dr. Scott: We have a problem about language in this area. Aging has many different meanings. You can age chronologically - how many years you have, you can age biologically - which reflects how fit and healthy you are. You can also have a subjective sense of age, which is how old you feel and then the sociological sense of age which is what society expects you to be doing. We get very mixed up with these different ways of how we can think of aging, as a chronological thing, so we just made it how old you are, measured by your age.
Mostly, people think of aging as the end of life, where it is about all of life, every year you get one year older. But I think the other challenge is because we measure aging chronologically, we miss what is really very important, which is how we are aging, is changing. On average, we're aging better, we are still aging, but people are healthier and fitter for longer. And that's a really positive thing. This is the difference between aging and longevity. Most people think that aging is the end of life. But I think longevity is about all of life, and how we make the benefits of the longer life that we're experiencing.
We're aging better, we are still aging, but people are healthier and fitter for longer.
This is an excellent description. Thank you very much for that. Your book has been a tremendous success internationally, now published in over 20 languages. Do you think there is sufficient awareness and public debate around the social and economic impact of people living longer?
Dr. Scott: I think not. When I think about how we're adapting to this growth in life expectancy that has happened, and really understanding it, there are two things. The first is the incredible gain in life expectancy that happened in the 20th century. And if that carries on, then how will we need to adapt going forward? I think most people aren't aware of what has happened and that it is how we adapt that is important as individuals, companies and governments.
What I'm finding in response to the book, is that a lot of individuals are already thinking and acting differently. They're aware that what used to work for their parents at a given age isn't working for them. So I see a lot of people innovating and being social pioneers.
Then amongst companies, I see a number of them saying “We know that older consumers will need to be more important”, but I don’t think they really get older consumers, I think they still have an out-of-date view of what it is to be old.
Then you have governments, which I think have a bit of a split personality here. Government systems are very focused on tomorrow, but also thinking 50 years ahead. The governments are doing something and mostly it's about trying to push out the retirement age or trying to make the pension system more sustainable. They are doing something, but in general, I don’t think they are doing enough. And I don't think they really understand what's happening, because the dominant narrative around demographic change, which is all about birth rate decline and people living longer, means you have more old people, more people aged over 65. And that's bad news for the economy, because 65-year-olds don’t work and have higher pensions, and need more healthcare. But for me, what they're missing out on is another channel, which is the one we talked about earlier – the longevity channel, which is that people are aging better. If you look in the labor market, people are working longer. I’ve been looking at some statistics for the U.S., UK, Germany and Japan, and around 85-90 percent of the employment growth that’s happened since 1998 has come from people aged 55+. America in the last 20 years has created over 22 million jobs, of which around 20 million concern people over 55 working more. It is worth picking up on what I call a longevity dividend, making policies around aging, like pensions, more sustainable. Because if we will have longer lives, there are a lot of things we need to think about. First of all, working for longer, we need employment laws to cover us, but we also need to have training and education and I think governments, in general, do not realize the power of the longevity channel. Because longevity channels are about all of life, preparing yourself for the future by trying to maximize your chances of living a long, healthy, fulfilling and productive life. The more people go down that channel, the better it is for the individual, society, and the economy. I think governments are beginning to wake up to this. I've been having conversations with different policymakers and trying to get them to understand if you really want to worry about the elderly, of course, you have to worry about the current elderly, we will need to make sure that the next generation of old people is as healthy as they possibly can be.
Exercise, diet, being engaged, getting educated, all these things make you age better.
I very much like your statement and at the same time wonder how we can change the current negative perception of old age and focus on the benefits of as you called it the gift of longer life or longevity dividend.
Dr. Scott: It is a great question, the hardest to answer because it would be wrong to say that aging doesn't come with problems. We still have an end of life period when we are frail. There are a number of challenges here. One which is out-of-date is that we don't realize that 65 is not that old anymore and that somebody of 65 is in general in better health. So in the UK, today, a 78-year-old has the mortality risk of a 65-year-old from 30 or 40 years ago. We should get out of these outdated assumptions about what it is to be old. The second challenge is that people age very differently. One of the problems is that chronological age does not cover the diversity of how we age. People seem automatically to worry about dementia, which they should do, it's a horrible disease, but it's still not a disease that most people get, and we're finding people with the incidence of dementia declining. If there are more people getting dementia, it is because there are more people but we tend to look at the negatives rather than the positives. The third challenge we have with a three-stage perspective of life is that it becomes quite age segregated. So often, people aren't aware of what it is to be old. This feeds the stereotypes. What can we do about this? We have to accept that there are challenges about getting old but what the 20th century revealed, was that age is malleable to a degree, which is surprising. So if you take certain actions, and obviously exercise is one of them, diet, being engaged, getting educated, all these things make you age better. And I think if we can get people at every age to start thinking, I want to go down a good path and realizing it starts earlier, and it is not about the end of life, but all of life, you have more of a chance.
The success of the “100 Year-Life” has been a pleasant surprise, and I think it is because it tries to say there is a more positive story here that you can use to your advantage. I think that's what's ultimately captured people's imagination, as normally, all the narratives about aging are about problems. But if we're living longer, and we are aging better, there are also whole new opportunities. For me, it's not about ignoring some of the challenges of an aging society, but also giving equal weighs to the opportunities that the longevity economy brings.
Thank you. In your book, you also mentioned the multistage life, which is also going to change our perception of how we age as well, and the traditional stages of life. What are the main changes that we can expect and how can we best prepare for this multistage life?
One of the insights that a longevity perspective gives you, is that this is about time. If we are living for longer, we have more time. So the question is how do we structure our lives to make the most of that time. In the 20th century, when people were living reliably to 70 years of age, we created a three-stage life around education, work and retirement, and we also invented two new stages of life, teenagers and pensioners, neither really existed in the social sense before. We just had children and adults and people worked until they died.
What we need to do for the 21st century is to recreate the course of life to match with the fact that we are living well beyond 70, in Japan it's the late 80s and the generation being born today may live well beyond their 90s and into their 100s. So we need to change our personal life.
Most governments are just trying to stretch out the three-stage life. We have calculated in the book that if you've got a 100-year life, and you start at 20, you will probably work until you are 80, and stretching out a career over 60 years seems just wrong. I think there's nothing you can learn at 20 that will still be valid when you're 70. You would get very bored doing the same thing, and your relationships and your health will suffer, given how hard you're working. So we need to create a multistage life and different stage of your career will be aimed at different things. One may be aimed toward money, one may be to have a better work life balance, or maybe something bold for the community and one maybe something entrepreneurial, and you can rearrange the stages in different ways. But what you're trying to do with your life is to manage your assets, and most people think of financial assets. But also very important are intangible assets: your skills, productivity, vitality, health and relationships. Also, your ability to change because to keep up with all that, you will have to go through changes, some of which will be chosen by you, and others, forced upon you. You will have to think about your life and making sure that at any point in time, none of those four assets - finance, productivity, vitality, and transformation are empty. Different stages of your life will be focused on building these assets and understanding what that means. For the individual, there are a few key things that make life different. The first is longer lives mean no matter what your age is, you have got more time ahead of you, than previous generations. You have to be more forward-looking, you have got to think more about investing, not just in finances, but in everything.
Secondly, because life gets longer, you will go through more changes, which is another challenge. We tie our identity so much to our current job and role. But in the multistage life, you will have many different jobs and roles, and you're going to have a sense of identity to patch together with all the different strands of what you're doing. With change, you're going to get not creation, but recreation, have to keep investing in yourself and being fluid and open to new ideas, not getting too stuck in your habits or your consumption spending, making sure that you can make these transitions and change, and that we will also require education - the other key to living a good life. These things go two ways. The first is if I'm living longer, I will have to do things differently and the second is the importance of maintaining a sense of engagement, How do I make sure that when I get up I am still engaged in something? It can be a job. It's one reason why people in nonmanual jobs tend to live longer and work for longer. It's not just about paid employment, it's about being part of your community or feeling you have something to do. Making sure over a longer life that there's some sense of engagement that you can create, and not rely upon others is the most important change.
If we are living for longer, we have more time. The question is how do we structure our lives to make the most of that time.
You mentioned in your book the importance of preventive healthcare and investing not only wealth management, but also health management. How can we start to become a more health conscious society?
Dr. Scott: This is a huge issue and some of this is about our health system, which needs to shift from an interventionist to preventive approach. Most aspects of health systems are designed for when the majority of the population are over 30. When the majority of the population is over 65, or 50, you have to switch away from an intervention-based policy to something that's more active and preventive and more holistic. As you age, the physical challenges aren't just about, I have a bad leg. It's everything together. So we need to rewire our health system, which is not a small thing to do. But health is so much more than just the medical system provided. We're seeing a lot of an AI and data-driven approach, which I'm sure will have some role to play here. We're also seeing interesting scientific research, trying to understand, genetically how age is malleable, all of which will be important. But it's still the case that the best antiaging treatment we know is exercise and physical involvement and participation in the environment in which we live. There is a danger we have forgotten some of our best practices. If someone aged 70 knew nothing about what anyone else did was asked, how do you want to live your life? They might look around, observe social norms, and say, that's what people do, so that's what I will do. That social norm is designed to work for a certain lifestyle. The challenge we've got is that we tend to think about the second stage of our career as being about transferring money from stage two to stage three. But we have to think about it as also transferring health from stage two to stage three and stage four and get across the idea that over a longer life, our concept of work and savings needs to change. Right now, our sense of work is I get paid for the time I put in, and our sense of saving is let me put money into the financial system and I get money back later. But we really do have to think about work as I put in the time and I get a reward. It might be a new skill, it might be a healthier heart. But we have to think about work and also saving, in a broader setting. It is exactly the same thing. You're looking to invest in assets that give you a benefit in the future. But it's more than just your financial assets.
What inspired you to this area and the topic of the impact of the longevity dividend?
Dr. Scott: Here at London Business School, I give talks about future trends that will shape the world in which we live. I would often give a talk about an aging society and to be honest, I found it a bit intellectually unsatisfying, and also rather pessimistic, because it just said, Oh, well, we have got all these old people, not many young people, we can't afford to grow old, the economy is going to be in a terrible state, and that was very negative but also very simplistic. But the deepest challenge I had was I couldn't see the connection between what was happening at the individual level where we see that on average, we are living healthier for longer. That seems just good news and I couldn't understand how that could be turned collectively into economic bad news. That's how I started saying what is really happening. I looked at what I was doing compared to my parents. I was doing things differently. I have a photo of my father aged 14, and he's wearing a suit and tie, he had a job, he was paying rent. Then he's married, I think he’s 17. He has a child at 18 and a house at 19, and that’s pretty young. I was doing those things in my mid-20s. Now I look at my own children, and they are doing very different things from me. My middle child said to me, at the end of his university studies “Dad, I’m not going to get a job next year”. And it got me thinking do we know what's happening and why? And I realized that how people were aging was changing. That's how I got into this area. If we can influence how we age, the benefits are enormous, both at the individual and social level.
Could you recommend any books on longevity that have inspired you and that you would recommend to our readers?
Dr. Scott: There's a growing number of books in this area. Clearly that this is an issue that is concerning people, because our book is already three or four years old now and there weren’t that many books out when it was written. Francis Rosa writes well about older people. On the social side, Laura Carstensen from Stanford focuses on a long, bright future and the positive dimension. Mark Freedman has a great book out called “How to Live Forever”. Mark focuses not on genetically being young forever, but upon the importance of older people being useful in society, with a broad community purpose. It's a book full of warmth and humanity that I think adds some wisdom to this whole debate about what we should do as we live healthy for longer. Chip Conley has a fun book called “Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder”, which looks at the role of older workers, how they are selected and what firms need to do for them. Then there's an English historian called Pat Thane and he has written a number of wonderful books on how the concept of being old has changed over time. So there are a lot of books but these are the ones that spring to mind.
Thank you very much for your time.