Ever-extending lifespans bring more uncertainty as well as more leisure. Andrew J Scott and Lynda Gratton tell Erica Wagner how we should be preparing for the long road ahead.
“We are living through a period of profound change that will impact everyone,” write Professors Andrew J Scott and Lynda Gratton in The New Long Life, a blueprint for the age of “staggering medical improvements”, AI and other fruits of human ingenuity.
The duo’s second investigation of what longer lifespans mean for us, our families and our careers follows The 100 Year Life (2016). That book considered the structure of elongated lives. This new one addresses their quality, requiring us to challenge what they call the “school-work-retire” narrative.
Profound change is topical in the age of coronavirus. Though the book was completed before the crisis, the authors feel their argument is strengthened by the behaviours that the crisis has revealed.
“We had seen that there were deep-seated changes happening,” Gratton says about the book’s inspiration. “We looked at two things: technology and ageing. Looking at an ageing population led us to a set of assumptions about the changing world, which hold up well [under] Covid-19.”
The duo’s collaboration began at the London Business School (LBS). With a background in psychology, Gratton is a professor of management practice and directs the course ‘Human resource strategy in transforming companies'. Scott is professor of economics and consulting scholar at Stanford University's Center on Longevity. He is co-founder of the Longevity Forum and a member of the advisory board of the Office for Budget Responsibility. On an LBS trip to Asia a few years ago, they realised they were looking at similar issues in different ways.
“I’m a macroeconomist,” Scott says. “I tend to do big-picture: how the system fits together and how that comes down to what the individual should do. Lynda, of course, tends to look at things from the individual and how they go outwards.”
The book’s subtitle offers “a framework for flourishing in a changing world”. That framework can be summarised in three words: narrate, explore, relate. It means navigating our life stories; exploring and continuing to learn; thinking about our relationships and what they mean to us.
Scott and Gratton stress the importance of individual resilience – especially vital when life expectancy has vastly increased. In 1908, when the UK state pension was introduced, median life expectancy was 45. Now a person aged 65 can expect to live another 20 years.
Gratton says: “In terms of ‘narrate’, we said, ‘explore your possible selves’. People are going to think a great deal more about their life course, the sort of decisions they make about themselves.”
In the case of ‘relate’ she cites how the coronavirus has “reconnected us to our families and communities and helped us realise how much we took societal bonds for granted.
Andrew J Scott and Lynda Gratton
“And then finally, we talk about ‘explore’ – the whole learning agenda.”
Education is a key theme: lifelong learning will enable us not only to adapt to the technologies of a changing world, but to continue to be inspired by that world. The way we’re all having to pivot to new ways of working during the pandemic shows how change is possible. Education, she says, enables people “to re-form their identity, to connect to each other, to form networks. We think that’s going to be a very important part of adult learning.”
“Social ingenuity” is Scott and Gratton’s key term. We’re all going to have to work hard to break social and political habits that used to serve us well. Covid is only an accelerant of changes already underway. The three-stage life no longer holds up.
As Scott says: “Stage two is earning money for stage three. We have a whole pension industry and investors thinking about a pension pot. What we’re saying is that now there’s a multi-stage life. We’re saying ‘your portfolio [contains] a lot more than just money. You’ve got your health, you’ve got your skills, you’ve got your relationships, the community, your family, and money. And in this multi-stage life, you’re going to think differently about them’.” There is much to consider here for the investment and pensions industries, challenged by the changing practicalities – not much explored in the book – of filling those pots for their clients.
Both authors stress that planning for “the new long life” means imagining the lives we wish to live: in other words what really matters to us. That concerns our finances, certainly, but much more than that. “The danger of sticking to the three-stage life is that we arrange our lives to support our finances” Scott says, noting the absurdity. “We need to arrange our finances to support the life we want.”
The New Long Life: A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World by Andrew J Scott and Lynda Gratton is published by Bloomsbury, £20
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New York-born Erica Wagner is a former literary editor of The Times, and a regular reviewer for The New York Times and a two-time judge of the Man Booker Prize for fiction. Her books include Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters; a novel, Seizure and most recently Chief Engineer: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge, a biography of Washington Roebling.
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