Is there a new, crazy kind of retirement-work life coming?

Senior architect standing by desk working with computer at office.

Image: Nyul/

Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott don’t call it crazy, but compared to what we have now the retirement they see coming seems at least strange. Gratton and Scott are both professors at the London Business School and, in their book The 100-Year Life, they suggest that we need to prepare for exactly that—a 100-year-long life.

They’ve done the statistics and come up with the following:

  • A child born in the West today has a 50 per cent chance of living to 105.
  • A 20-year-old has an even chance of living to 100.
  • One out of two 40-year-olds will live to 95.
  • And a 60-year-old has a 50 per cent chance of living to 90 or more.

A couple of realities give credence to the notion. In 1963, any Japanese person who reached 100 years received a silver sake dish—a sakazuki. In that year, 153 were given out. In 2014, 29,350 were issued. The practice was discontinued in 2015.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a decade ago letters from the Queen to centenarians in the Commonwealth was handled by one person. Now it takes seven people.

What’s changed to create the possibility?

The average life expectancy in most Western countries is in the early 80s, but it has been rising over time. Gratton and Scott point to several factors causing this. They include things like better health and nutrition; better medical care; and better sanitation.

Public health campaigns have also helped. Think of the success of anti-smoking campaigns that now have fewer people smoking.

Higher income is also a factor that’s demonstrated in countries like India where higher incomes have been linked to an increase in life expectancy from 24 years in 1900, to 41 years in 1960 and 67 years in 2014.

Imagining the 100-year life

Preparing financially for your retirement could prove difficult if you live to 100. For instance, if you save 10 per cent of your income for retirement and want to retire on 50% of your final salary, they suggest you’d have to wait until you’re in your 80s.

Gratton and Scott see big changes over time with a lengthened and varied work life. Instead of the current three-stage life—a schooling-work-retirement approach—they see multiple changes.

They suspect it will look more like: school-work-retraining-work-retraining-work-retirement. The ‘retraining’ may lead to new careers. Within this process, they believe there’ll be times of working long hours to maximise income, but also times of shorter hours to maximise family time.

All this brings huge social changes.

Some realities

Gratton and Scott recognise that governments (always) and businesses (often) are not quick to adapt to change. And they suggest it won’t happen without some consensus, which also takes time. So, the kind of changes they see coming will happen slowly.

However, if the number of centenarians is growing as quickly as they believe, change is inevitable. What that will look like is still open to speculation.

Bruce Manners: the author of Retirement Ready?, Refusing to Retire, and founder of

Category: Ageing, Planning, Working

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