People are living longer and working longer — but few organizations have come to grips with the opportunities and challenges that greater longevity brings.

Across the world, people today are living longer. Whether it is in the United States, China, or Rwanda, average human life expectancy has increased over the past few decades. If life expectancy continues to grow at the rate of two to three years every decade, as it has done over the last 150 years, then a child born in Japan in 2007 will have a more than 50% chance of living past the age of 107. Under the same assumptions, children born in that year in most of the advanced economies will have similar odds of living past their 100th birthday.1

There is growing awareness that increasing longevity will have major implications for how people manage their work lives and careers. Rising life expectancy means the level of savings required to provide a reasonable income for retirement at age 65 is becoming increasingly infeasible for most people.2 We predict that, given the average level of savings in advanced economies, many people currently in their mid-40s are likely to need to work into their early to mid-70s; many currently in their 20s (many of whom could live to be over 100) will be working into their late 70s, and even into their 80s.

Across the world, people are becoming more conscious of their lengthening working lives — but frustrated by their working context. Our research suggests that while people know they will have to restructure their lives and careers, corporations are unprepared. (See “About the Research.”) Indeed, corporations have been somewhat inconsistent in their reaction to greater longevity. On the one hand, many executives are excited about the possibilities of tapping into the estimated $15 trillion of spending power of people over 603; on the other hand, few have taken full account of the opportunities and challenges longevity brings to their own workforces.

References

1. J. Oeppen and J.W. Vaupel, “Broken Limits to Life Expectancy,” Science 296, no. 5570 (May 10, 2002): 1029-1031.

2. L. Gratton and A. Scott, “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).

3. S. Nahal and B. Ma, “The Silver Dollar — Longevity Revolution Primer,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch report, June 6, 2014.

4. R.W. Fairlie, A. Morelix, E.J. Reedy, and J. Russell, “2015 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity: National Trends,” Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, 2015, www.kauffman.org.

5. With corporate pensions declining dramatically in number, achieving a decent retirement income is now increasingly dependent on individuals saving during their working career.

6. D.G. Blanchflower and A.J. Oswald, “Is Well-Being U-Shaped Over the Life Cycle?” Social Science and Medicine 66, no. 8 (April 2008):1733-1749.

7. G. Palladino, “Teenagers: An American History” (New York: Basic Books, 1996); and J. Savage, “Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture 1875-1945” (New York: Viking Penguin, 2007).

8. W. Graebner, “A History of Retirement: The Meaning and Function of an American Institution, 1885-1978” (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1980); and D.L. Costa, “The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

9. L. Gratton and A. Scott, “Our Assumptions About Old and Young Workers Are Wrong,” Harvard Business Review, Nov. 14, 2016, https://hbr.org.

10. L. Gratton, “The Key: Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems” (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014).

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. L. Shen, “These 19 Great Employers Offer Paid Sabbaticals,” Fortune, March 7, 2016, www.fortune.com.

14. L. Gratton, “Hot Spots: Why Some Teams, Workplaces, and Organizations Buzz With Energy — and Others Don’t” (San Francisco, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007).

15. Shen, “These 19 Great Employers Offer Paid Sabbaticals.”

16. L.R. Roepe, “How Paid Re-Entry Programs Can Get More Women in Tech,” Fast Company, Feb. 25, 2016, www.fastcompany.com; and A. Robaton, “Where Women Over 40 Can Reenter the Workforce,” CBS MoneyWatch, Aug. 22, 2016, www.cbsnews.com.

17. Case on Fujitsu prepared by the Future of Work research consortium in 2016.

18. M. Toossi, “Labor Force Projections to 2022: The Labor Force Participation Rate Continues to Fall,” Monthly Labor Review, Dec. 19, 2013, www.bls.gov/opub/mlr.

19. D. Acemoglu and P. Restrepo, “Secular Stagnation? The Effect of Aging on Economic Growth in the Age of Automation,” National Bureau of Economic Research working paper no. 23077, Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 2017, www.nber.org.

20. “‘Bonkers’ Employers Don’t Realise That Older People Make Great Employees,” The Guardian, Aug. 21, 2013, www.theguardian.com.

21. C. Loch, F.L. Sting, N. Bauer, and H. Mauermann, “How BMW Is Defusing the Demographic Time Bomb,” Harvard Business Review 88, no. 3 (March 2010): 99-102.

22. A. Mayers, “Older Workers: At This Company, Average Employee Is 65,” Toronto Star, June 17, 2013, www.thestar.com.