The Corporate Implications of Longer Lives

  • Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott
  • March 01, 2017

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.