It’s Time to Update Our Longevity Mindsets

Author: Jerry Cahn

It’s Time to Update Our Longevity Mindsets


MarketWatch Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Olshan recently reported that Laura Carstensen, Director of Stanford’s Center on Longevity, ”argued that we should abolish retirement and spread periods of work, education and sabbatical throughout our lives, abandoning the old school/work/retirement timeline.” (The Best New Ideas in Retirement , in Barron’s, May 26, 2019.)

Age Brilliantly agrees! A realistic look at how life has changed for so many people last century and is likely to change in this one, dictates that those of us who want to lead fulfilling lives throughout the journey to 100+ (i.e., “age brilliantly”) and/or enable our children to do so during the 21st century and beyond, need to update mindset concerning the options of “full-life” management.

Longevity and the “Retirement Concept”

At the beginning of the 20th century, the average life-span was around 45 years old.  Retirement was first introduced in the late 19th century in Prussia as a reward for soldiers who deserved to take a break from their work during their last years of life. The great Depression inspired policy makers to do the same for workers who spent their adult lives in fields or in factories without much of a break from the hard labor. Social Security gave these hard working adults some additional income with which to enjoy these final “golden” years. This was followed by the creation of pensions, 401Ks, IRAs, etc. – all designed to give people additional resources with which to enjoy the limited time available. “Official” retirement ages between 60-70 reflected the majority of lifespans. This led to the creation of the “three phase life” mindset: pre-adult, working adult, retired-adult.

“Extra” Time.

The challenge to this “mindset” as people started living longer. By the beginning of the 21st century, a combination of factors, including improved health and nutrition increased longevity, with life spans increasing to the 80s and beyond. (Indeed, a series of studies have been conducted in the “Blue Zones” areas where a substantial number of residents live healthier and longer lives than others (e.g., 100+).)  

Thus, the focus of many financial planners switched to helping people deal with the “extra-time” that was adding 10-30 years in the last stage: through proper planning the goal was to lead a reasonable life-style and not run out of money during those last years. 

Physical Labor Gives Way to Digital-related Jobs

Simultaneously, technology changed people’s jobs: fewer and fewer people spend their days engaged in exhausting physical labor in the field or factory. Instead, more people now engage in service and production jobs using technology to achieve their goals, and enabling them to work for many more years. Moreover, greater job options exist, enabling adults to pivot from one career to another as long as they and employers permit. This includes working in all segments of the economy:  public, private, quasi-state-private partnerships; it also includes the fast-growing “gig” economy which is absorbing part and full-time workers. As a result, many workers, including politicians and industry leaders are staying productive into their 70s and beyond. And the trend will continue: researchers project that today’s children are likely to have 10 careers in a lifetime.

Let’s Acknowledge Today’s Aging Realities

With increased longevity and the ability to continue being productive – for needed income, passion or purpose – the concept of “retiring from a job for a few years of leisure” is becoming outdated. Dr. Carstensen’s suggestion of abolishing the “three-stage theory” involving retirement, reflects today’s changing demographic trends.

As people celebrate their 50th birthday (the official age to start an AARP membership) they don’t feel or consider themselves as “old” and need to retire from the workforce to enjoy what’s left of life.  Most want to continue working; and when they enter their 60s, many are not looking forward to retiring in the next few years.  Indeed, the fastest growing segment of workers is people over the age of 60. And many of the leaders in our country are in this category. President Biden is 78 years old and our previous president was in his 70s. Two thirds of the Supreme Court Justices are 60 or older. Today, almost 60% of S&P CEOs are 60 or older.

Second, with online education the fastest growth segment of education, lifelong learning, something most people advocate as a way of staying relevant and pursuing our passions and purposes, is within everyone’s reach.  The Pandemic drove more people to using online learning, and the need for upskilling – retraining people for new positions – to absorb workers as equipment and robotic process automation and artificial intelligence increase the number of traditional jobs that will be obsolete.

Third, people increasingly are challenging the old model, with a simpler and more powerful one. With 60-80 years of adulthood, hopefully in good health, with enough financial freedom to take time off from their current jobs, and a desire to live with purpose and passion, people will want to do more than just seek four day work-week, create “gaps” in or sabbaticals in their life journey. Instead they use “GROWTTH” time – weeks, months or years for “Goal Reorientation with Time for Health and Happiness” – to pivot their lifestyle, including careers, relationships, location, etc. Imagine being able to take off for 1-12 months every few years, to reflect on how to make a change in one or more phases of your life. If our children are expected to have about 10 careers, this means they may experience 10 pivots in life! Today’s “retirement@ 60-70 years of age” will simply be another significant life “pivot”.

Fourth, it’s up to us to generate new models for our future and that of our children, who are likely to live 100+ years. For instance, why work at things you don’t enjoy for the bulk of your life and only plan to enjoy life after you reach traditional retirement age and only have 20-30 years to enjoy it?

  • F.I.R.E. (“Financial Independence: Retire Early”) adherents believe in enjoying a reasonable quality of life in a “retired from work” lifestyle throughout most of their lives and not waiting till reaching “traditional” retirement age. They invest the early stages of adulthood (e.g., 20-30s) in income producing jobs and keep expenses very low, so they can save and invest most of the income to use for expenses for the next 50-60 years of life. When they achieve their goal (e.g., save/invest $1Million) they then adopt a lifestyle where they can live on the savings (with some supplemental income from passion-purpose activities) for the rest of their lives. 
  • Successful entrepreneurs build companies when they’re young and exit in their 30s-40s, using the resources to live on for the next 40-60 years, often using that time to focus on passion and purpose projects – such as helping other young people build such successful companies.
  • Other adults are adopting the “full-life” management approach in which they plan for an adulthood of 60-80 years, during which they want to live a fulfilling life by integrating many of the elements. So they plan out ways to work for income, enjoy leisure, engage in passion and purpose activities, and take GROWTTH time to explore options and then pivot to the next thing they want to do. Using the Positive Intelligence principles, they innovate, navigate and activate their next segment of life

In sum, it’s time to upgrade your mindset by abolishing concepts like “retirement” from work when you reach an arbitrary age, only to continue finding ways to be productive and enjoy life to 100+. Instead forge a “full-life management” lifestyle in which you continue to thrive by exploring options and implementing changes for a 100+ year life of good health, financial freedom, solid relationships and engage in passion and purpose projects that give your life meaning throughout the journey!