Ageing and Longevity

Prosperity in the Age of Longevity

Kenji Kohno, Anchor, NHK News Watch9, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), Japan, David B. Agus, Professor of Medicine and Engineering, Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine of USC, USA, Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School, United Kingdom, William Francis Morneau, Minister of Finance of Canada and Yasuhiro Sato, President and Chief Executive Officer; Member of the Board of Directors, Mizuho Financial Group, Japan speaking during the session "Prosperity in the Age of Longevity" at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 18, 2017Copyright by World Economic Forum / Jakob Polacsek

Image: JAKOB POLACSEK

Jonathan Walter
Freelance writer, World Economic Forum
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Ageing and Longevity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
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Children born in 2007 will most likely live to 100 or more. Today’s medicines can delay strokes and heart disease by decades. This trend, however, will play havoc with working lives, pensions, healthcare costs and relationships – imagine doing the same job or being married to the same person for 80 years!

Centenarians in Japan will soar from 60,000 today to over 600,000 by 2050, leading to a $1.5 trillion social security bill, a 30% drop in the working population and a “silver democracy” skewing government priorities away from youth towards the aged. Canada reached a tipping point in 2016, with more over 65-year-olds than under 15-year-olds. A recent World Economic Forum-Mercer survey predicts a leap in pension fund deficits worldwide, from $70 trillion today to $400 trillion by 2050.

How are we going to keep ourselves and our societies prosperous and healthy, the older we all get?

1. Retrain in new skills for new work

Governments may be in denial about this, but we’re going to have to get used to working well into our 80s, says Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School. To do that means retraining to boost our productivity. New technology, such as virtual learning, offers great opportunities for retraining. Governments should support older people to start their own businesses, enabling a second or third career. Research shows that every year we delay retirement, we reduce the chances of getting Alzheimer’s by 3%.

2. Cultivate our intangible assets

In other words, we need to cultivate our friendships, networks and a healthy work-life balance. The best assets are transformational – they help us to change and adapt. The more diverse people we know, the easier we can imagine changing ourselves to be like them. A lifetime friend of 50 years is a great asset. “People will not live long lives on their own; they will live them with other people,” Gratton says. Research shows that people with spouses live longer. We need to start young and put in the hours to develop our relationships. We should measure these assets like we measure our pulse.

3. Get proactive about prevention

Encouraging people to start early with healthy living and behaviour patterns is a tough ask. We’re hardwired as humans to want as much as we can get, right now. Students at the London Business School are trained to imagine their 80-year-old selves sitting next to them, evaluating their life choices. Everyone over 40 should consider a daily dose of magic pills – such as baby aspirin and statins – says David Agus, Professor of Medicine and Engineering at the University of Southern California and Steve Jobs’ personal doctor. If everyone in the US did this, it would save $100 billion a year in healthcare costs. Quiet, undisturbed sleep is equally vital. So, if your spouse or dog snore, pop in those earplugs!

4. Corporates need to innovate and incentivize

The corporate sector has to think hard about how to structure work in the future. If we’re going to be working till we’re 80, the work culture is going to have to change. Taking a gap year, taking time out to do things that interest us, sometimes working a three-day week – these are the kinds of innovations corporates need to embrace now to keep us in the workforce for longer. Age stereotyping has to go. As Agus points out: “Brains with 40 years of experience are an asset not a liability.” Companies also have a role in changing behaviour. Yasuhiro Sato, Chief Executive Officer of Japan’s Mizuho Financial Group, describes how his company incentivizes healthy behaviour among its employees by awarding vouchers to spend in local shops. Some companies in the US have started offering discounts on health insurance contributions to employees who don't smoke and keep fit. Will governments follow suit? It’s a debate we need to start, argues Agus.

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