Book Review: The 100 Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity

The book was written by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, and presents a ‘wake-up call’ that describes what to expect and consider the choices and options that we would face under a 100-year life expectancy.

The book also presents a call to action for individuals, politicians, firms, and governments under this vision, and aims to offer a clear demonstration that a 100-year life can be a wonderful and inspiring one.

The thirty main takeaways I got out of this book are:

  1. A child born in the West today has a more than 50 percent chance of living to be over 105, while by contrast, a child born over a century ago had a less than 1 percent chance of living to that age. This is a gift that has been accruing slowly but steadily. Over the last 200 years, life expectancy has expanded at a steady rate of more than two years every decade. That means that if you are now 20 you have a 50 percent chance of living to more than 100; if you are 40 you have an evens chance of reaching 95; if you are 60, then a 50 percent chance of making 90 or more.
  2. Over the twentieth century a three-stage view of life emerged: a first stage of education, followed by a career, and then retirement. Now imagine that life expectancy increases, but the retirement remains fixed. This creates a significant problem: most people simply can’t afford a generous pension if they live longer. The solution is to either work longer or make do with a smaller pension. No wonder a longer life feels like a curse – neither option is attractive.
  3. There are real opportunities to move away from the constraints of a three-stage life to a way of living that is more flexible, and more responsive – a multi-stage life with a variety of careers, with breaks and transitions. In fact, we believe this is the only way to make a long life a gift and avoid the curse of Ondine. However, this restructuring of life is not trivial. It will involve major changes for you as an individual, for the firms and organizations that hire you, and indeed for governments and society.
  4. The need for restructuring is down to time: over a hundred years there are simply a great many more hours. Think about it this way. There are 168 hours a week – across a 79-year lifespan that’s 611,000 hours; across a 100-year lifespan that’s 873,000 hours. How will you allocate this extra time? What will you do? How will you sequence stages and activities? Whether it be the working week or the weekend, the annual vacation or bank holidays, or indeed the three-stage life, the structuring and sequencing of time is effectively a social construct. In a longer life there will be different structures, alternative sequences and a redesigned social construct.
  5. There will be new jobs and skills – Over the coming decades there will be significant churn in the labour market as some traditional jobs disappear and new ones appear... A hundred years ago, agriculture and domestic service provided the bulk of jobs; today they have shrunk to a tiny percentage of the workforce, while the proportion of office jobs has soared. Looking forward, this churn will continue as robotics and Artificial Intelligence replace or augment a whole lot of jobs, from back office processing jobs to sales and marketing, office management and administration. In shorter lives with relatively stable markets, the knowledge and skills a person mastered in their 20s could possibly last their career without any major investment. If you now work into your 70s or 80s in a rapidly changing job market, then maintaining productivity is no longer about brushing up on knowledge – it is about setting time aside to make fundamental investments in re-learning and re-skilling. 
  6. Life will become multi-staged. Instead a multi-staged life will emerge. Imagine you have two or three different careers: one perhaps when you maximize your finances and work long hours and long weeks; at another stage you balance work with family, or want to position your life around jobs that make a strong social contribution. The gift of living for longer means you don’t have to be forced into either/ or choices. 
  7. Transitions will become the norm. In a three-stage life there are two key transitions: from education to employment, and from employment to retirement. With more stages there will be more transitions. This is important because right now few people are able or skilled to make these multiple transitions. . Being flexible, acquiring new knowledge, exploring new ways of thinking, seeing the world from a different perspective, coming to terms with changes in power, letting go of old associates and building new networks. These are the transformational skills which call for a potentially huge shift in perspective and require real foresight. 
  8. Lockstep will end. In a multi-stage life this is no longer the case. You could be an undergraduate and no one could reliably predict your age from this piece of information. ‘Age’ is not ‘stage’ any longer, and these new stages will be increasingly age-agnostic. Younger for longer – Conventionally, living for longer is seen as being older for longer. There is evidence that this convention will be reserved and people will be younger for longer... Evolutionary biologists refer to this as neoteny – the retention into adulthood of adolescent features that help promote flexibility and adaptability and avoid being pinned down by habits. Finally, because age is no longer stage, there will be more cross-age friendships as people from different age groups pursue similar life stages. 
  9. Home and work relationships will transform. Traditionally the home was a place of specialization – men worked and women looked after the home and children. This has changed in recent decades, as women increasingly entered the workforce and dual incomes became the norm rather than the exception. However, while family roles have changes, the narrative of the three-stage life as typical of the male career remains dominant. While women are more likely to have multi-stage lives, this is still seen as unusual and not the norm. Generation complexity: The three-stage life has led to an institutional separation of the young, the middle-aged and the old. The multi-stage life, new structures of family relationships and the fact that age is no longer stage will start to reverse this generational isolationism. 
  10. There will be much experimentation. Neither individuals, nor communities, nor corporations or governments have worked out how best to support a 100-year life. …. The younger you are, the more you are likely to experiment and the greater opportunity you have to start and plan afresh. If you are in mid-life, you may have been following in the footsteps of your parents and implicitly assuming a three-stage life. It is now becoming clearer that greater life expectancy is making that three-stage life uncomfortable. 
  11. The coming HR battle. However for corporations, and especially their HR departments, all this sound like a nightmare; companies like conformity, and simple, predictable systems are easy to run and implement. Sodon’t be surprised if large numbers of institutions resist these changes. 
  12. The challenge for governments. A long life requires resources, skills, flexibility, self-knowledge, planning and respectful employers. The danger is that the gift of a long life will only be open to those with the income and education to construct the changes and transitions required. 
  13. Who am I? The forces that shape the living of a long life are economic and financial, psychological and sociological, medical and demographic. …. What your 70, 80, or 100-year-old self would think of you now? Can you be sure that the decisions you are making now will stand up to the scrutiny of your future self? …. Simply following the herd is not going to work. …. The past is not a predictor of the future; who want to earn about options and not just constraints; and who want to positively influence the working life they lead now and into the future. People who want to maximize their chances of making a long life a gift rather that a curse. This book is an invitation to take the first steps towards creating that gift.
  14. Living: The gift of a long life. The simple answer is that the younger you are now, the longer you are likely to live see… Basically in every decade since 1840, life expectancy has increased by two to three years... Over time, earlier diagnosis, better treatments and intervention, and better public education, especially around the health-related challenges of smoking, helped drive improvements in health. ….In Japan, for example, anyone reaching 100 was entitled to receive a silver sake dish, a sakazuki. When this practice was introduced in 1963 there were just 153 centenarians but by 2014 more than 29,350 were issued. .… In 2015 the sakazuki tradition was discontinued... There are, of course, myriad casual factors at work behind this increase in life expectancy: better health, better nutrition, better medical care, better education, better technology, better sanitation and better income. Demographers debate which of these factors is most important.
  15. You will age more healthily. Morbidity refers to the health-related quality of life before death. …. In Charles Dickens’ age the focus of innovation was on reducing child mortality; in Ian Fleming’s age it was on tackling the diseases of middle age; now it is on confronting the diseases of old age.
  16. Financing: Working for longer. The simple truth is that if you live for longer then you need more money. This means either saving more or working for longer… The greater the increase in life expectancy, the higher the savings rate, and/or the longer the working years. The gift of those extra years has swiftly turned into a curse. Most of us don’t like the idea of paying the bill in return for a gift… We all need to move away from the dominant concept of a three-stage life... Making assumptions. Most of us are interested, perhaps very interested, in how long we should plan to work and how much we should plan to save… We assume that the goal of all three characters is an annual pension worth 50 per cent of their final salary... So the return on investment has three components: the risk-free rate of return (usually the interest rate on government bonds, assuming that it is a government that doesn’t default); the risk premium (how much extra an investor earns from risky assets); and the balance of the portfolio between risk-free and risky assets... An important source if data is the work of Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh and Mike Staunton. Every year they produce estimates for a range of countries going back more than 100 years... Taking an average of US, UK, Japan, Germany, France and Australia over this period gives a historical return above inflation of 2.8 per cent… We assume a steady growth in income of 4 per cent over and above inflation a year. …. The final assumption is the age at which you plan to retire. Our initial calculation is that everyone aims to retire at 65.
  17. The disappearing pension. The most common economic issue discussed around the topic of greater life expectancy is the growing financial unsustainability of state pensions, especially in the developed economies. Most rich countries have a form of state pension known as Pay AsYou Go... The problem with Pay As You Go schemes is that people are living longer and birth rates are declining... Across the OECD a total of eighteen countries have raised the retirement age for women, and fourteen have done so for men… If you are a high earner, it is also important to realize that the state will play a smaller role in your pension provision going forward… In the US, the number of employees with access to defined benefit pensions declined from 62 per cent in 1983 to 17 per cent by 2013… With company pension schemes now scarce and state pensions becoming less generous, the overwhelming message is simple: the burden to save is being shifted increasingly to the individual... As income rises in emerging markets and as female education improves, so the fertility rate declines.
  18. Working: The employment landscape. Winston Churchill sagely remarked: ‘It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see’. Making predictions about the future is hard, and the further away the greater the uncertainty. With a 100-year life the range of uncertainty increases substantially. The new industries and ecosystems – Sectors will change. In 1910, one in three workers were either farmers or farm workers, but now these occupations make up a mere 1 per cent of the workforce... New Ecosystems will emerge. The gig economy refers to the idea that there will be a rising number of people earning their income not through full- or part-time employment, but rather through providing a series of specific tasks and commissions to multiple sequential buyers. It’s possible right now to sell your skills through platforms likeUpwork, or to make creative contribution on InnoCentive or Kaggle, which can attract top project work for cash or prize awards... The sharing economy as a commercial entity provides the promise of a flexible source of income. 
  19. Flexible, smart cities will rise. In 2010, 3.6 billion of the world population lived in cities. By 2050 the number is projected to be 6.3 billion – equivalent to the movement of 1.4 million people every week… They know that innovation is occurring at a faster pace, and they want to be close to other smart people to push and challenge one another. These clusters initially formed from groups graduating from universities and specialist colleges... At the centre of these creative clusters are often world-class universities… In fact, according to Enrico Moretti of Berkeley, every one smart job creates five others. Some of these other jobs are highly skilled too, such as lawyers, accountants orconsultants… It is possible that the idea of the ‘office’ will come to look ridiculously traditional and expensive. Indeed, when executives at Unilever measured where and when carbon dioxide was produced, they discovered that expecting people to commute into large, central offices created an extraordinarily large carbon footprint. This and other drivers will move more people to work from home, in local hubs or in shared community centers. In part this will be supported by lower-cost technologies such as holograms and virtual meetings. It will also become the norm, as managers become more skilled at managing virtual workers and more encouraging of home working. However the move to home-based virtual working will always be balanced by the value of proximity.
  20. A jobless future? If each generation is born as smart as previous one and inherits their stock of knowledge, then by exploring and combining different aspects of that knowledge and creating new insights, the world progresses technologically. As Isaac Newton brilliantly summarized, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Unique human skills. From a technological perspective, the real question about the future wok concerns the limits of AI and robotic substitution. …. David Autor and his co-authors point to two sets of these uniquely human capabilities. One set involves capabilities associated with complex problem solving that relies upon expertise, inductive reasoning or communication skills… The second set of capabilities involves interpersonal interactions and situational adaptability. These tend to be associated with more manual roles… At the heart of the first set of capabilities is Polyani’s Paradox,which refers to a comment made by chemist and philosopher Michael Polyani that ‘We know more than we can tell’. In other words, a significant amount of human knowledge is tacit and therefore cannot be written down in the form of instructions, so cannot be replicated by AI and robotics. The second set of tasks relates to Morovec’s Paradox, which states that ‘It is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult-level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility’. 
  21. Intangibles: Focusing on the priceless. Intangible assets play a crucial role in all our lives. …. For most people, a good life would be one with a supportive family, great friends, strong skills and knowledge, and good physical and mental health. …. However, these intangible assets are not independent from tangible ones. …. So intangible assets are key to a long and productive life – both as an end in themselves and also as an input into tangible assets. Indeed a good life needs both, as well as the balance and synergies between the two. Asset management. An asset is something that can provide a flow of benefits over several periods of time. …. Intangible assets such as friendship and family, physical and mental health, skills and knowledge lack this obvious physical existence, which crates challenges in how they are measured and whether they can be traded. …. Often there is something about their very essence and their history than makes intangible assets non-tradable. …. If the knowledge you have mastered is no longer valuable, it cannot simply be sold and new skills bought. …. Yet just because intangible assets can’t be easily priced or traded doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. …. In the words of George Valliant, the study’s pioneer, there are two pillars to happiness: one is love; the other is finding a way of coping with life that doesn’t push love away. Earning more does make you happier, but love makes you happy. Asset rich. Three distinct categories of possible intangibles assets: 1. The first category of intangibles is productive assets. …. Skills and knowledge will be a major component of this category; 2. The second category is vitality assets. These capture mental and physical health and well-being. Included here are friendship, positive family relationships and partnerships, as well as personal fitness and health; and 3. The final category is transformational assets… These transformational assets refer to their self-knowledge, their capacity to reach out into diverse networks and their openness to new experiences.
  22. Productive assets – The returns on learning and education. Over a long productive life, investing in knowledge and skills is a priority. …. It will be very natural that some people will use these additional years of life for postgraduate study. …. Given that across a 100-year lifespan there are 873,000 hours available and if, as is often claimed, a specialist expertise takes 10,000 hours to acquire, then mastery in more than one field is neither daunting nor impossible... Valuing knowledge. Learning is an important part of life and has a value way beyond the income it can generate. Nelson Mandela was right when he said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’… In the abstract this is an easy question to answer. The emphasis should be on acquiring stocks of skills and knowledge that are valuable – in other words, they are in demand as useful – and rare. Not many people have them, hence the earlier prediction regarding the rise in postgraduate education. These skills and knowledge also have to be difficult to imitate, so those who have them have a head start compared to others. And they must be hard to substitute. It is this last characteristic that technological developments threaten the most and is the most challenging in terms of learning and educational choices... If the nineteenth century was about the Industrial Revolution and the power provided by physical capital, then the twentieth century was about the advantage of education and human capital. The twenty-first century, however, will be about adding value by coming up with ideas and innovations that can be replicated or purchased by others… The same technological developments will occur in the education sector, where digital teaching will replace textbooks and classroom teaching and the valuable skills will move towards the intricate human skills of empathy, motivation and encouragement. Across a long productive life there will be an increasing focus on general portable skills and capabilities such as mental flexibility and agility. This raises an interesting conflict between this need for general skills and the importance of valuable specialization… No single specialization is likely to be sufficient to support productivity over long working careers... So while a specialist subject will require deep dive into pools of knowledge to achieve career success and signal the ability for sustained and accurate thought, this is unlikely to be sufficient to sustain a whole career... Some believe that the importance of human and empathic skills and judgement and the focus on creativity and innovation all suggest that an updated form of liberal arts education may be surprisingly valuable. Others argue that in a world where technology and science is becoming ever more important, an education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics remains key and the most valuable productive asset. Of course, in a long life it need not be either/or – perhaps it will be possible to do both. As well as shifts in what we learn, there will also be changes in how we learn, and in particular a rise in experimental learning. This is the learning that goes beyond textbooks or classroom learning and is developed through action. In part, the value of experimental learning will increase as simple knowledge acquisition becomes so much easier because of the developments of web and online learning. So what will separate people is not what they know, but rather what they have experienced using this knowledge. …. While there are many advantages of experimental learning, one challenge is that education-based learning is much easier to certify and credentialize. Peers. How we acquire knowledge and how productive we are dependsvery much on others. Making knowledge productive is, in other words, a team game. Reputation. Leaders of large corporations such as Coca-Cola or Apple know that much of the value of their company is not held in specific physical items or tangible assets, such as the factories and shops they may own. Instead it is located within intangible assets like brand or intellectual property rights... The same is true of personal brands. 
  23. Vitality assets. Physical and mental health and psychological well-being are crucial intangibles. When people are asked what makes a good life, they tend to talk about health, friendships and love. We term these intangibles vitality assets. They are what make us feel happy and fulfilled, motivated and positive. Fitness and health. Perhaps the most important insight about well being is the growing awareness of maintaining a healthy and well-functioning brain. It turns out that our actions and behavior are important here. Balanced living. The antithesis of vitality stress. Across the world, work-related stress levels are soaring and with this comes a plethora of health issues, from heart attack to general disability. Regenerative friendships. The development of a posse of like-minded peers builds the professional social capital that supports us in staying productive. However, it is the network of close, positive friends who will keep you sane and happy and contribute to your vitality asset. In her book, The Shift, Lynda called these types of long-established and rich friendships the Regenerative Community, to reinforce the role these people can play in regeneration... Over 100 years, these sorts of deep, emotionally laden friendships will be both harder to keep and also more valuable. Harder to keep because, as people live for longer and go through more transitions, the ties that bind them will loosen and potentially break as their sense of identity changes. However, their value will increase as some of these friendships will continue to be the thread that defines the basis of a life identity. 
  24. A new asset class: Transformational assets. We call these transformational assets and they reflect the capacity and motivation to successfully achieve change and transitions… Transformational assets are those that help increase the success of transitions and reduce the uncertainty and costs of change. Diverse networks. It is within larger and more diverse networks of friendship and associates that variety is found. Somewhere in this large diverse network are people who are doing or behaving in a way that you admire and believe could be appropriate to your own transformation. Openness to new experiences. The combination of self-knowledge and diverse networks creates the foundations for transformation. But what brings dynamism to this asset are actions, a preparedness to be open to creative solutions, to question old habits and routines, to challenge stereotypes and experiment with new models for integrating the different parts of life; being curious about how others are working and living, and feeling comfortable with the ambiguity that novelty brings. 
  25. Stages – Juvenesence. With this decoupling of age and stage, we will see characteristics previously associated with a specific age becoming more widespread. In particular the multi-stage life requires all ages to retain features previously associated with the young youthfulness and plasticity; playfulness and improvisations; and the capacity to support novel action taking. Novel action taking. These new stages create opportunities to take novel actions and in these actions there is an opportunity to learn experientially. We fundamentally learn through doing, and these new stages are a wonderful opportunity to do, to take action and then reflect on how it felt. Becoming an explorer. When we think about the exploration stage, we imagine excitement, curiosity, adventure, investigation and anxiety. Not settling down but staying agile and light, and keeping financial commitments to a minimum so as to move easily. This is a period of discovery: journeying to discover something about the world and also finding out about oneself... Right now we see explorers setting out with questions: what is really important to me, what do I care about, who am I? The journey they embark on is designed to help them answer these questions. For other explorers there is no single question that guides them. They are the adventurers with no goal other than the everyday joy of discovery – they are galumphing. In these adventures they create the stories that will narrate their future lives: what they saw, who they met, what they learnt. In a sense it is the real essence of being a human – the marvelous freedom to stretch out to discover the world. Within 100 years, we can imagine that many people will want to embark on their own adventure. Exploring at any age. Anyone can be an explorer at ant time or any age, but there are three periods of life – from 18 to 30, during the mid-40s, and around 70 and 80 – when, for many people, the fit will be perfect… At this point in time he has an idea of what he does not want, but a much less formed notion of what he does want. He needs time to experiment, to reflect and to begin to free himself from the habits of his existing role… This will be a period when activities such as education and re-skilling will be slotted in. Options, searching and matches. We see periods of exploration as being crucial to understanding options and trying to create the optimal match. However, it is undeniable that exploration is fraught with danger and the risk of failure. Reputation and curating. Experiential learning is great and hugely effective, but precisely because it is experiential it is hard to document. …. It will be imperative to find ways to credentialize the attainment of intangible assets.
  26. Money – Financing a long life. Without knowing what you want and having an idea of a life plan, it’s hard to calculate long-term finances. Financial efficacy. You can start to test your own financial literacy by considering what you have been termed the ‘Big 5’ questions (answers at the end of this chapter). Focus on the costs. The initial charge does matter – but it’s the annual fee that is crucial. Financial agency. Given increases in life expectancy, the cost of self-control issues also increases. The future will last longer now for everyone and so it is crucial to balance current actions with future needs. 
  27. Time – From recreation to re-creation. Time is inherently egalitarian (everyone has 24 hours a day) and inherently scare (most people say they don’t have enough). So is living a 100-year life minute by minute different from living a 70-year life? Quantitatively, of course, it is. There are potentially 168 productive hours in a week: across 70 years that’s 611,000 hours, and across 100 years that’s 873,000 hours. Qualitatively there are sure to be differences when lives elongate, as people make their own decisions about how to spend this extra time. The opportunities are vast: they could spend it working in order to build their financial assets; developing their skills; taking time out with friends, their partner and children; keeping healthy; going on sabbaticals; broadening their networks; or exploring different jobs and different ways of living. The enigma of leisure. But there are other reasons for feeling time-poor. Even if on average people are working less, this doesn’t mean they have more leisure. Clearly time spent not working or studying isn’t the same as leisure time. For instance, you may work eight hours a day, but if on top of this you have a two-hour commute then shouldn’t that be included as part of your ‘working’ day? Aristotle defined leisure as the freedom from the necessity of labour, but labour is a lot more than just the time spent at work. Just because you are not at work doesn’t mean that when you run errands, do houseworl or chores, this should count as leisure. Inevitably, definitions of leisure focus on the discretionary use of time, but even this is not quite right. You can, if you want, choose to sleep six rather than eight hours, but does this mean that those extra two hours of sleep should count as leisure
  28. Relationships – The transformation of personal lives. A sense of self. As we consider what it means to live for 100 years, it is clear that there is so much that can be achieved. Identity. Achieving this sense of identity and integrity of stages across a 100-year life will not be easy. Some argue that, for the majority of people, such a heightened sense of reflexivity is beyond their grasp. Planning and experimentation. At the centre of building a productive 100-year life are plans and experiments. Planning and preparation are crucial in ensuring that the flux of a long life doesn’t destroy financial and intangible assets. Experimentation is required so that possible selves are considered and examined. Together, these plans are experiments provide both purpose and individuality, and the psychological connectedness that shapes identity. Mastery. Over a long life, dedication and focus are crucial. If mastery is to be achieved, there will be many occasions when you will have to determinedly put in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours of learning, rehearsal and repetition to acquire a level of mastery.
  29. What does this mean for education? …more experiential content, …more innovations in learning... It is very likely that the range of educational institutions and academic or professional credentials will widen significantly... Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen argues that technology makes education ripe for ‘disruptive innovation’, and that this will have a positive impact on lifelong learning... Digital technologies offer tremendous advantages for supporting learning over 100 years. 
  30. Why is change so slow? What is striking is the contrast between the magnitude of change that society will embark upon as people live longer, and the relatively limited response from corporations and governments. Even more remarkable is the general lack of awareness of the agenda and issues. Saying that corporates and governments are ‘behind the curve’ doesn’t even come close... What will be the catalysts for change? …it will be people. Faced with the challenges and opportunities of longevity, it is individuals, partners, families and networks of friends who will experiment, deconstruct, reconstruct, discuss, argue and become frustrated.

The authors state that this book has been a very exciting journey for them both and has given us much thought about their own lives and how they plan their future. They really hope that it has the same effect on the reader to start thinking and engaging in conversations with our own families. The authors want this book to trigger many such conversations as well as a wider debate with corporations and governments. “The 100-year life will only prove a gift for society if those wide-ranging discussions happen. It is the responsibility of us to ensure they do.”

They finally recommend their we site When you arrive at the website you will see that there is a diagnostic that you can use to assess your current situation and help you plan more clearly for your future. The diagnostic takes a closer look at the flow of your tangible and intangible assets now and into the future.

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