Welcome to the longevity revolution! “Never before have so many people had so much experience and the time and capacity to do something significant with it.”
So says Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org and leading expert on the longevity revolution. “That’s the gift of longevity, the great potential payoff on all the progress we’ve made expanding lives.”
Encore Activist Deborah E Banda was quoted as saying; “Older workers are going to change the workforce as profoundly as women did.”
Both are right; increasingly, as we get older we are disrupting aging, embracing new opportunities, forging new pathways and staying engaged in purposeful and productive careers for much longer than previous generations.
But what does it all mean?
It’s quite simple – people are living longer and working longer. With that in mind, slipping quietly into retirement at 65 knowing full well that it is likely to be decades – not years – long, is a pretty strong motivator for continuing to work in some capacity.
Chris Farrell speaks of the last third of life being “reimagined and reinvented into ‘unretirement’.” He believes, “The unretirement movement builds on the insight that a better educated, healthier workforce can continue to earn an income well into the traditional retirement years.”
But the longevity revolution is about so much more than simply continuing to work for longer.
The terms ‘career peak’, ‘career curve’ and ‘over the hill’ imply there is only one hill to climb in your career and once you have peaked, it is a steady decline into retirement. This is no longer true. Thanks to the powerful influence of numbers from our aging population, the economic landscape is already taking on a much more interesting and varied shape than before.
It’s been happening for more than a decade already, ever since the first of the Baby Boomer generation turned 60 back in 2006. Even then, surveys conducted through Merrill Lynch revealed that in the US nearly 80% of baby-boomers wanted to continue working when they reach retirement age rather than spending their time after 65 at leisure. Tellingly, a significant number wanted to work in new ways; either part-time or rotating between working for 6 months and travelling the rest of the year. At the time a startling 56% were recorded as dreaming ofstarting entirely new careers.
This and more revelationary data come from Merrill Lynch’s Ken Dychtwald, cited in an article in Fortune magazine in October 2005 by Nicholas Varchaver. You can read the full article as an online pdf here
According to Dytchwald, “The longevity revolution will transform the relationship between work, education, family and retirement.” Even then he believed this longevity revolution would have a bigger impact on people’s lives, their money, on the economy, on our families, on work, than either the industrial or technology revolutions of previous centuries.
Fast-forward nearly 14 years and our ageing population is coming into its full power as far as numbers go, and much of what Dychtwald talked about has come true, although perhaps not as rapidly or significantly as he had predicted.
Old isn’t what it used to be
The world is changing, as it inevitably does over time. Although the perception of when ‘old age’ starts may now be between 70 and 80, and statistically we are living on average 30-35 years longer than our great grandparents did, there is still an unconscious bias towards people as they age in the context of where they fit into the working population.
What’s interesting is that so few people in their 60s these days would class themselves as old. This is also true of those in their 70s. More of us in this age bracket are engaged in some sort of income generating activity, be it a business enterprise or paid employment.
Shifting our own mindset first
Changing career paths later in life still seems like a daunting prospect for many. Perhaps there is a sense of having to compete with younger candidates, or perhaps it feels a bit like going against the grain to think about embarking on something new.
What we tend to forget is – and this has little to do with a failing memory and more to external influences on how we perceive ourselves and others – the experience that comes from living life counts for a lot in many areas. These include practical skills and knowledge around how things work through our extended exposure to many more situations, enhancing our problem solving skills and our ability to adapt to change. Also our skills in risk assessment, how well we relate to people, and our extensive network. These are all things that we have built up over time, by living longer.
As more people are of an age to leave the workforce than enter it, which current trends show, and life expectancy and quality increases, the pendulum is going to swing back towards those with the experience, wisdom and willingness to be engaged and make a positive contribution to the economy.
With it will come a shift in perception that will see older people emerging as the preferred candidates for more roles than not.