As longevity increases around the world, men and women are returning to school as adults to gain skills and working beyond traditional retirement age. Now, businesses need to catch up to individuals’ efforts adapting to longevity. Employers have to revise their work, education, wellbeing and other policies once designed for much shorter, different lives.
That was the consensus of economists, physicians, executives, educators and others from almost every continent who met for a conference, organised by the Stanford Centre on Longevity and The Longevity Forum.
“If we live a hundred-year life using the same norms that worked for sixty or seventy years, it’s unlikely to be a good long life,” said Andrew Scott, an economics professor at University of London. “And while there’s much that individuals need to do to adjust, they won’t be able to seize the advantages of longer lives without policy changes from governments, corporations and other institutions.”
The conference participants discussed numerous, varied issues, such as:
- The benefits of assisting younger and older generations
- The recognition that ageing is malleable — with even small improvements in diet, exercise or the environment affecting how long we live
- Why chronological age increasingly is a poor measure of what it means to be old
- The importance of supporting flexible, multistage life paths
What Singapore Is Doing Wisely About Longevity
While many countries have begun addressing longevity, the most comprehensive planning is occurring in Singapore. In that country, the average life expectancy is 85 — among the highest in the world — and about 24% of the labour force is 55 or older, up from 14% in 2008.
But Singapore isn’t focusing on building nursing homes. Instead, the island city-nation is investing $3 billion to support lifelong learning and employability, health and wellness, financial literacy and multi-generational housing, among other initiatives.
“Singapore’s only resource is human capital, and our population is ageing faster than in any other country. We realised we had to address this to survive,” John Eu-Li Wong, professor in medical sciences at National University of Singapore.
To sustain economic growth, Singapore over the next decade is raising its retirement age from 62 to 65 and requiring employers to reemploy men and women who want to work until at least 70. The government there also gives businesses a 3 percent credit to offset wages of employees over 50 and makes grants to companies so they can modify jobs for older workers.
In addition, wellness programs in all communities include regular screenings for chronic diseases, and activities such as Tai Chi and dance lessons. National Silver Academy, a network of colleges and community-based organisations, offers post-secondary education to older people, who can take courses in technology, business, literature and other subjects, and who often share classrooms with youth. A SkillsFuture program teaches necessary skills for future jobs to Singaporeans of all ages, and a MoneySense program teaches young and old alike how to manage money and invest.
Singapore’s small size (population: just 5.8 million) and a lack of U.S.-style partisan politics battles make it easier to implement a nationwide longevity plan. But its effort to harness the advantages of being an ageing society is a model for other countries, said Laura Carstensen, executive director of the Stanford Centre on Longevity.
“Instead of focusing on frail old age, Singapore is trying to support people all the way through their long lives,” Carstensen noted. “It’s changing the narrative from ‘ageing is a burden’ to ‘longevity is an opportunity.’”
What Some Developing and Developed Nations Are Doing
Developing nations are beginning to launch age-friendly programs while continuing to grapple with problems like providing clean water and building adequate roads.
In Bangladesh, where average life expectancy has risen to about 73 from 48 in 1960, a strong network of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is taking the lead in addressing aging and longevity.
For example, Dhaka-based BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, is funding research and treatment of hypertension, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases. BRAC also offers microloans to adults seeking to start small businesses. Such efforts are enabling Bangladeshi to live longer and more prosperous lives.
Wealthier, developed countries looking at longevity often have an array of uncoordinated programs to help residents stay productive and healthy longer. Some have been launched by governments; others by non-profits or private companies.
In Ireland, where just 17% of those aged 65 to 74 have at least basic digital literacy skills, according to a 2017 Eurostat survey, the government has funded several non-profits to provide 10 hours of free computer instruction to anyone who has never used the Internet. It’s targeted for people over 45 and those who live in rural areas, are disabled or unemployed.
In the United Kingdom, The Pension Advisory Service and insurer Aviva are experimenting with programs to help middle-aged people evaluate their jobs, finances and health, as well as their plans for later in life. In 2018, TPAS targeted a small group of self-employed workers, aged 35 to 50, with one-to-one phone conversations. There are now plans to make this midlife check-up an online program.
Many European countries, including Denmark and Finland, now offer digital literacy training to adults. The goal: ensuring that older as well as younger people aren’t excluded from an increasingly digitised world.
Source & Copyright: Forbes/Carol Hymowitz/Next Avenue – Abridged version – Image: Pexels