The 100-year life

Rachael Saunders, Business in the Community's Age at Work Director, reviews a new book The 100-Year Life, Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.


We know that living longer will mean that life will be different, but it is hard to imagine exactly how – which is why Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott have done us a great service in sketching out what a 100-year life might look like.  The book makes a strong case for moving beyond the conventional three stage life – childhood, working life, retirement – and into a multi-stage life, where we will all experience periods of learning and development, different career phases, and periods of transition.

The challenge set out by the authors is to individuals, as well as to business and to government.  As individuals, we need to take responsibility for planning to make the most of a longer life, including making realistic assumptions about the resources – such as relationships, money, and skills - that we will need to live the life we want. 

The challenge to government is to dismantle policy assumptions that rest on a three-stage life, from education entitlement to welfare benefits.  The idea of lifetime allowances is particularly interesting as people with money and qualifications are often better prepared for the opportunities of a later life.  Currently, our welfare state is set up to support a three stage life, with working age benefits aimed at encouraging people into work and a state pension that kicks in at a particular age to support leisure in retirement.  The authors’ idea of a lifetime allowance to support periods of learning and leisure throughout life has echoes of the basic income debate currently ongoing, and the new Labour attempts at individual learning accounts.  We need to reconfigure government support, both to be more flexible to support the many different choices that people may make over a multi-stage life, and to incentivise necessary behaviours such as learning and saving.  

The challenge to business is to enable genuine career flexibility.  This will, in part, require changes to ways of working – many of the opportunities to enter professions or train for jobs are heavily skewed towards young people.  Much of the change that is needed is less formal and is about employers choosing to allow different forms of career path, rethinking job design, and re-evaluating what they reward.  There will be more recommendations for employers on how to do this when we launch our next report in September. 

This book is hugely useful in setting out exactly what a different way of planning and living a multi-stage life could look like, and the decisions we all need to make to make the most of the opportunities that the 100-year life offers us.