How the Coming Longevity Revolution will Transform the Marketplace, the Workplace and Our Lives.
By Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D.
After twenty-seven years of study, research and mind-stretching discussions about the future with hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, I am convinced that we now stand at the brink of a long sought-after longevity revolution that could shake-up our lives, institutions, workplaces and families in more dramatic ways than either the industrial or technology revolutions of past centuries.
now: the race is on.
Throughout 99 % of history, the average life expectancy at birth was less than 18 years. During the 20th century, the average life expectancy has vaulted upwards from 47 to 76 years. And, given impending breakthroughs in a wide range of mind-boggling scientific fields—from nutraceuticals and hormone therapies to organ cloning, telomere manipulation and gene therapy—tens of millions of Americans may live decades longer that current projections assume. Essential to this increase in life spans is a corresponding increase in health spans as we attempt to produce a healthy version of aging.
old isn't what it used to be.
When Otto Von Bismarck picked 65 to be the marker of old age in the 1880's, in preparation for Germany's first pension plan, the average life expectancy was only 45. However, all around us today we see examples of a worldwide revolution in "ageless" aging. In 1997, former President George Bush celebrated his 72nd birthday by parachuting from a plane. Sophia Loren is still considered one of the sexiest women in the world at 65. Senator John Glenn returned to space at 77 as a silver-haired "payload specialist" and at 82, Lena Horne remains talented and beautiful. And considering his 74 years, no one seems to be crusading to put Alan Greenspan out to pasture. There's no doubt about it, people are liberating themselves from having to "act their age"—causing all of society's markers to shift. In response, in the years ahead, it's likely that a new stage, "middlescence" will occupy the period from 40-60, late adulthood from 60-80 and old age will be postponed to around 80+.
longevity revolution will transform the relationship between work, education,
family and retirement.
The speed of technological advance combined with the growing public appetite for personal growth and new lifestyle challenges at all ages will render obsolete the traditional "linear" life paradigm—in which people have migrated in lockstep first through education, then work, then leisure/retirement. In its place, a new "cyclic" life paradigm in which education, work and leisure are interspersed repeatedly throughout the life span is emerging. It will become normal for 50 year olds to go back to school, for 60 year olds to fall in love and for 70 and 80 year olds to re-invent themselves through new careers. Phased retirements, part-time and flex-time work and "rehirements" will become common options for mature adults who'll either need to or want to continue working. As part and parcel of this new paradigm for living, we'll need to encourage lifelong learning and multiple career re-inventions and smash the "silver ceiling" of age discrimination.
boom in the marketplace: maturity rules.
During the next 20 years, the number of 50+ Americans will grow by a whopping 40 million people. And as the mature segment of our society continues to shift from being the poorest to the richest, companies and industries that can sensitively and creatively meet their needs are posed for explosive growth. Big winners are likely to be: financial services, mutual funds, annuities, estate planning, long-term care insurance, reverse mortgages, pharmaceuticals, anti-aging therapies, nutraceuticals, medical devices, adult education, adventure travel, senior housing, assisted living, home security, eldercare management and internet cemeteries.
boom to age wave: are we prepared for a boomer gerontocracy?
While the number of older adults is multiplying, the size and strength of youth is declining as fertility rates in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and other modernized nations are dropping. And as boomers migrate into maturity, America will be transformed into a "gerontocracy" with a wide range of political implications our founding fathers couldn't have imagined back in their short-lived era.
If they can step outside their generational tendency toward self-centeredness and wield power with wisdom and compassion, they could rise to their greatest height and make a remarkable success of history's first multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-generational melting pot. Or if, like silver-haired velociraptors, they use their size and influence to bully younger generations and gobble up all of the available resources, we may find ourselves in a "Gerassic Park" of our own making. The choice is ours.
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