What if we live to be 100

I had an interesting conversation with my Lyft driver the other week about my work on innovating for the older adults. Being a freelance writer himself, he asked an interesting and thought-provoking question: “What would be the implications on the society, if we were to live to be 100?”

Before you chuckle: This is a real possibility. My maternal grandmother is almost 94 years old; and she is still active and healthy. According to demographer Prof. James Vaupel and his colleagues, 50% of babies born in the U.S. in 2007 will have a life expectancy of 104 or more.

Now, to my fellow friends and colleagues who are in our prime 40s, let’s start with the good news: “40 is the new 30”. In another words, we are not at the half way point yet.

All joking aside, what does this mean to how we work and how we live our lives? How will this impact how we plan and save for retirement? How will this impact the intergenerational dynamics? And how do we ensure longevity is a blessing and not a curse?

Career planning

It is quite conceivable that we will require re-training at some point during our career, in order to acquire more relevant skill sets and technical know-how. Longevity aside, the world is constantly changing around us. We are at the cusp of the “5th Industrial Revolution” brought on by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Manufacturing jobs of the future will become increasingly high tech; low-level mundane work will likely be performed by robots, leaving humans for the higher skilled and creative roles. According to McKinsey, automation, artificial intelligence, and natural user interfaces (e.g., voice recognition) could add $9 trillion to the global economy within the next decade. And Brett King predicated that by 2025, every leading company will be tech based.

If this holds true, what does this mean to our society?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the number of job openings hit a new high in April while hiring slowed, a potential sign that we are facing a shortage of qualified workers: the Americans who are unemployed or out of the workforce might not have the skill sets that employers are looking for. Advancement in technology is already having a profound impact on our society and humanity.

With longer work life, retuning our career will become more critical. But this does not have to be daunting. I have come across many who have evolved into different roles and industries throughout their career. Many explore an “encore career” post retirement. According to the latest Kauffman Foundation report titled “The 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity: National Trends”, older Americans represent a growing segment of entrepreneurship: the percentage of new entrepreneurs for people aged 55 to 64 has increased from 14.8% to 25.5%. And that is a wonderful thing. This demographic brings with them years of corporate experience to the startup community; something that cannot be learned from a textbook environment. As different generations of workers interact more with one another, the diversity of background and ideas can bring about better mutual understanding, and potentially exciting innovations.

Financial planning

It should come as no surprise that we will need to rethink the way we manage our finances and save for retirement as well. Here are a few obvious questions: How much later will I need to extend my career to become economically sufficient for retirement? How much outstanding debt do I have and how/when do I plan to pay it off? When will I qualify for social benefits and what is the best way to take advantage of them? Can I afford to go on a vacation or fund the grandchildren’s college tuition? What is my drawdown strategy to make sure I do not outspend my savings? What can I do to potentially offset the high healthcare costs?

In previous posts, I discussed a few ideas on financial solutions to help address the challenges faced by older adults, including debt management, financial literacy, and decumulation (which is the opposite of wealth accumulation). Another crucial concept is fraud and financial exploitation. Older adults in particular are most vulnerable, with the average financial exploitation victim losing $120,000 according to AARP research.

Retirement planning aside, as we all live longer lives, the need to manage finances for multiple households may become more acute. At some point, we will likely need to start figuring out how to manage finances for our aging parents, or make decisions around living arrangements that will have implications on the financial lives of not just our parents but ourselves and our siblings.

Social considerations

With longevity, we are also delaying major life commitments such as getting married, buying a house, or starting a family. According to Pew Research Center, the median age at first marriage reached its highest point on record: 29.5 years for men and 27.4 years for women. Interestingly, Pew also reported that a record 60.6 million people (nearly 1-in-5 Americans) lived with multiple generations under one roof. Figures from the Census Bureau showed the number of grandparents in the U.S. has grown by 24% since 2001 to 69.5 million in 2014. Since we are living longer and healthier lives, what impact will this have on family dynamics and caregiving?

Living arrangements aside, there are also additional social implications to ponder about as we get older. It is understood that social isolation can lead to deterioration of health. To maintain our physical social network as we get older, the challenges of transportation must be solved. Hence the promise of autonomous vehicles is so exciting where the conversation of “taking away the car keys” can be dealt with much easier.

Age is a number

Every day, we are confronted with realities of aging. But the truth is, as a colleague of mine once said, aging began the day we were born.

As technologists, we are drawn to shiny new toys. We desperately want to fix things even when they may not be broken. Consider this for a moment: What if aging is not something that needs “fixing”, but something that we celebrate? The new multi-stage life provides us with more opportunities to try something new that we otherwise wouldn’t have. Age is no longer a determinant of what life stage we should be at and what we should be doing. If we treat life as a canvas, now we have the freedom to paint it how we want it.

Raison d’etre. I believe in the power of being, and that everyone has a particular role and purpose in the universe. As I embarked on a major career change two years ago, my goal was to become a lighthouse in the dark for those who cannot see; a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. I have been fortunate enough to meet a few like-minded individuals who shared the same passion; and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead as we continue to forge ahead.

In the end, age is but a number. As my good friend Brad Leimer has challenged: “What if we live to 110, or 120, or 150?” How would we rethink the various aspects of our lives and choreograph life’s moments? What would be your “oh wow” moment when you look back?

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” Oscar Wilde


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