Andrew Scott & Paul Irving on What Aging Means Today

It’s a rarity to reach 100 years old, but as life expectancies grow longer, what happens when that rarity becomes the norm? Is society prepared for it? Economist Andrew Scott tackled this in his book, “The One Hundred Year Life” and Hari sat down with Scott and aging expert Paul Irving to discuss this in San Diego.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: My next guests argue a single career path may no longer be enough for us today. It’s a rarity to reach 100 years old. My own father did make that milestone and we had a great celebration. But as life expectancies grow longer, what happens when that rarity becomes the norm? Is society prepared for it? The economist, Andrew Scott, is tackling this topic in his book, “The 100-Year Life.” And Hari Sreenivasan sat down with him, alongside aging expert Paul Irving to explore.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Why “100-year life”?

ANDREW SCOTT, CO-AUTHOR, “THE 100-YEAR LIFE”: One of the things when I started digging into the topic was just understanding, wow, most people aren’t aware, if you look at the 20th century, every decade, life expectancy increased two or three years. That means every generation is living almost 10 years longer than their parents’ generation, but we’re still acting in the same way as our parents or even our grandparents. And most people are not aware of that.

And if you carry on that trend, it does mean a lot of children born in the richer countries today have a reasonable chance of living to 100. In the U.K., the government says that one in three chance of a child born today living to 100. So, “The 100-Year Life” was saying, “Wow. Actually, you got a lot more time. How did you live your life differently?”

SREENIVASAN: So what are the consequences if we lived to 100?

PAUL IRVING, CHAIRMAN, MILKEN INSTITUTE CENTER FOR THE FUTURE OF AGING: Well, it’s a paradox. I mean, you know, science in many ways has done its part. So, we’ve had incredible scientific advances over the last 150 years or so, improved sanitation. And as Andrew said, lives are longer across the world. But in many ways, we just don’t know what to do with these additional years. And that’s true on an individual level, it’s true, again, on a societal level, it’s true in businesses and communities. And so, we have to change really everything, all institutions, to adapt to what is going to be a much older world.

That’s really, by the way, a product of two things, a product of increasing longevity and lower birth rates. And across much of the world, people are not having children at replacement rate, that’s true in the United States and that’s true in the U.K., it’s true in China. China has reversed the one-child policy. But let me tell you, young couples are still not having the 2.1, 2.2 kids that they would have to have to replace the Chinese population, which is actually likely to be smaller in years to come than it is today.

SREENIVASAN: I mean, if you are thinking that culturally and societally, we’re thinking you should be getting out of the workforce at 65 and if you’re living another 30 years, that’s a full third longer.

SCOTT: You can’t. I mean, so the way I see what’s happening is I mentioned earlier every 10 years, life expectancy has grown two or three years. That’s like nearly every day saying here’s another six to eight hours. And if you think about what would happen if the day went from 24 to 32 hours, we would restructure the day. Now, how do we do it? I’m not yet sure. For me, I would get up earlier and I’d go to bed later and sleep in the middle of the day and I would not have three meals, I might have five, hopefully smaller ones. But basically, I would restructure time.

Now, the 20th century, we introduced some new stages in life. We invented teenagers and we invented pension as retirees. And we are seeing the same thing happen now, because as we stretch life to 85 or 90 or beyond, our existing structures don’t work. And one challenge is the retirement at 65, it clearly doesn’t work. But neither just stretching that out to 75 or 80, because there’s nothing, I think, you can learn at 20 that will last until you’re 80.

So, we have to think also about education and thinking about getting more education throughout our life. But we’re already seeing massive changes in society. The average age of first marriage in the U.S. is now around 30, not 21. In the U.K. you’re more likely, as a woman, to have a baby over 40 than under 20. So, we’re seeing all sorts of changes already happening but I think it’s just the beginning of a pretty significant rewiring of how we live of our life. And then, of course, that requires change from our education, institutions, our corporate institutions and government policy.

SREENIVASAN: I mean, what is retirement anymore? I mean, what is the idea of retirement itself has to change, it doesn’t — right? I mean, it’s not necessarily sort of being on the margins anymore, out of the workforce. And you can’t keep people at bay for 30 years.

SCOTT: And it’s probably not healthy either. We know that, you know, it’s good to be engaged and work is one way of being engaged if the work is good. So, you know, I think in the 20th century we invented a three-stage life, education, work, retirement. And that just can’t be stretched out to 85 or 90. So, I think we’re seeing people having multiple career stages, a multistage life, with perhaps two, three or even four different careers.

And so, one of the questions about retirement, which has already come to an end is, what do I do? Do I carry on working? Do I do something different? Do I do something for a charitable purpose? But is that quest to be engaged throughout our life and how to make that work financially? But also not just financially, also in terms of your health, in terms of your relationships and in terms of your education?

We’ve got more time ahead of us because we’re living for longer. So, we got to prepare for that differently and invest in the future. And we too often think of that as just about finances. Because if I am going to work until I’m 70, how do I keep my job? What skills do I need? How about my health and fitness? How do I maintain this longer life?

SREENIVASAN: You know, we had one significant shift in productivity increases and labor decreases with automation, and it seems that we’re now on the cusp of another one with artificial intelligence. An employer is going to say, “Hey, this is good for business, this is good for me. It increases productivity, I pay humans less.” How do you convince businesses that it’s worthwhile to bring on a workforce say over 50?

IRVING: But I think what we’ve come to realize is the skills and talents of older people actually beautifully compliment the talents of younger people. Younger people bring curiosity and risk-taking characteristics and imaginations to new jobs, but they also lack the skills that enable them to navigate complex environments, to think in a multisectoral way, to understand how to actually get things done, to move through a corporate system, to deal, if you will, with the politics of a business, which comes from experience.

If they somehow figure out a way to effectively blend the characteristics of these older employees and these younger employees, they could have the best of both and hopefully, potentially outperform what would be created by same-age teams of any age, young or old.

You want to have the most creative, most effective teams thinking about your new products and services, your innovations. You’re in the silicon valley, you’re creating a skunk works product that you want to use to beat the competition, develop something, something exciting, put an old person and young person on the team together. And by combining their skills and talents, I think you’re likely to outperform.

SREENIVASAN: Are there companies you have seen that are doing this well?

SCOTT: Some are and wrath of experiments that companies are doing. But actually something has been happening, because you look at the last 20 years in the U.S., employment has increased by 22 million. If you look at where those jobs have come from, it’s not the silicon valley miracle, it’s not the hipsters of Brooklyn, it’s been coming from those over age 55. Twenty million of 22 million jobs have come from people aged over 55 and 16 million, I think has come from 55 to 64 and another five or six from those aged over 65. So something is happening, there’s a lot more people want to work and many of them are being able to work. There are a lot much challenges but it’s a big contribution from U.S. GDP from that increase in employment.

IRVING: It’s not just jobs, it’s actually business creation too.

SCOTT: Exactly.

IRVING: The expectation is again, kind of the culture bias is, you’ve got to be a computer — a very young computer scientist who probably drops out of Harvard after your freshman year to create a brilliant business to make it in America. but the truth of the matter is, in the United States, more businesses are created by people in middle age than are in their 20’s and that’s probably a good thing. Because they’ve been bumped around and got experience.

SREENIVASAN: How do we change our entire, kind of education system? Because Right now it seems our goal is to get you through 12 years of education, four years of college, and then we’re still operating under the assumption you’re going to be, what, working at the same company for 40 years for Rolex? That’s not how…

SCOTT: It’s a big challenge. You’re now more responsible for an individual to save for your own pension. You also a lot more responsibility to invest in your own skills throughout life. So clearly what’s going to happen is you’re going to go from front-loading education to spreading it out, so there has to be a big increase in adult education and making it more centered and central. That’s going to lead to some really interesting developments because clearly what you learn, when you learn, how you learn and who you learn it from are going to change pretty fundamentally. I don’t know if it’s going to be colleges, I don’t know if it’s going to be no degree space, but this is a hugely interesting area, because we’ve got to prepare people for lifelong learning. I think what that means is at the beginning of your education, you don’t learn things, you learn how to learn, because that’s going to be the skill that’s really important, right, the way through the rest of your life.

And that’s pretty hard, because if you look at our education system, it was developed during the industrial revolution and said to people sit there, there’s an authority figure, 9 to 4 take instructions, be used to having your performance measured and then go out and do that in the factory. But that doesn’t seem to be what the workforce of the future needs. So it’s going to be a really big change.

IRVING: It requires all of us to change. It requires a fundamental culture shift that speaks to the way we should talk to our kids and grandkids about education, about it being a lifelong process, about it not being something that you do for a period of your life and then stop. It should be something that is ongoing that continues throughout life, frankly right to the very end.

SCOTT: It’s funny if you ask somebody what was your education or how skilled are you, they’re ready say I did a degree at Oxford 30 years ago. If you said to someone “how fit are you?” and they said “I ran a marathon 30 years ago,” that doesn’t have any sort of resemblance for what’s occurring today, and I think that’s the challenge. We see education as an event in the past but life and learning something, we have to do all the time.

So you can kind of see how longer life in technology means it’s going to be quite hard. You have to be hustling all the time, I’ve got to be developing my skills, looking out for change. But it is that — that proactive nature that I think is going to be really important in this longer life with new technologies.

SREENIVASAN: Look, I’m watching this as let’s say a Gen Xer and say, God, here are these two guys telling me that the older folks are going to be around even longer. I can’t get farther ahead in my organization because they’re there and here you are advocating that we hire them back. I mean, some part of this is also cultural and figuring out when is the time for companies, agencies, institutions to kind of renew — to get the best of the next generation that’s coming, to give them opportunities to grow.

IRVING: But I don’t — I don’t suggest for a minute that — that the fact that we’re trying to figure out new roles for older people, that older people shouldn’t — shouldn’t invest — invest and support and — and focus on the elevation of younger people. To the contrary, actually polling suggests most older people are prepared to take pay cuts if they’re — if they’re given respectful roles they have an opportunity to mentor and to play some kind of important part in the future of a company. So I think the notion that is a zero sum gain, that — that if we keep old people on the job, that by definition younger people won’t be able advance, is just wrong.

Andrew is the economist, I mean, some of the same arguments were made about the advancement of women 45 years ago. Economies and businesses and communities are elastic. The more people who were involved, the more they grow, the more they prosper and flourish. And so this notion somehow this is a competition over this very narrow, constrained kind of pie, I think is just a — just a false narrative.

SCOTT: I think what is very interesting is how as a society, the U.S. and U.K. got a bit confused about age. So for most of human history, people haven’t known how old they were, they didn’t know the year they were born, they didn’t know what their birthday was. The song happy birthday is a 20th century creation. So we didn’t know how old they were and we judged people by really, their fitness and their sort of actions and attitudes.

But we’ve become very age centric as a society, so that, I think leads into this confusion that I don’t know what young people are like because I don’t mix with them. I don’t know what old people are like because I don’t mix with them. So we fall into these generations of Gen Z’s and baby boomers to sort of try and fill in the gaps. But actually, just people are people, and the more we can try and get that dialogue going, I think we’re trying to so the same thing; we’re trying to refashion life. It’s a lot longer than we previously experienced, and whether you’re in you 60’s or your 20’s, you’re saying hey, , I’m not going to do things they way they were done in the past because that’s not going to work for me. How do I restructure things? So in the workplace I find that whether you’re 20, 40 or 60, everybody wants meaningful, flexible, good work. That’s a common aim, it’s not really a sort of zero sum find.

SREENIVASAN: What’s the cost if we don’t do this?

SCOTT: Yes, so I think there’s two things happening, so one is, there’s more old people, as the birthrate falls, we tend to live longer, we see more old people. And that’s the narrative that normally comes out. But other thing is how we’re aging is changing. On average, we’re aging better. So we’re going to try to make as many people as possible go around the second route to change well. That’s about all of life. It’s about education, it’s about health and good work, it’s about the way we balance work and home.

But every one person we can go down that healthy aging route, they stay active and produce for the economy, they take taxes, they don’t cost much in terms of health and social security. Every one person that does go down the sort of that age route and doesn’t age well is a burden. So there’s an economic cost if we don’t make the most of this extraordinary development of the 20th century of the potential for longer and healthier lives. And of course, what we’re seeing both in the U.K. and U.S., is life expectancy fall because of growing health inequality. And so tackling that, I think has to be incredibly important policy.

IRVING: Yes, I would just — I would add part of the challenge is not just enabling changing institutions to enable this advantage group to take advantage of their additional years to democratizing that opportunity, its figuring out ways that we can ensure that people in ZIP codes across town could have the same opportunities that those of us who are fortunate enough to have that educations and exposure and all of the rest, do. So it’s probably a longer conversation that, as Andrew suggests, we have a very significant challenge in making sure those opportunities are spread.

SREENIVASAN: Paul Irving, Andrew Scott, thank you both.

IRVING: Thank you very much.

SCOTT: Thank you.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with George Packer about the legendary diplomat Richard Holbrooke; and Kate Pakenham about her new play, “Emilia.” Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Andrew Scott & Paul Irving about aging in today’s society.