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Tracey Spicer talks to Professor Andrew J Scott from London Business School about how retirement is changing, and what it could look like in the future.
Hi, I’m Tracy Spicer. How do we manage to live good long lives when the path ahead is littered with such uncertainty? Well, Andrew J. Scott might just have the answers for us. He’s a professor of economics at London Business School and a consulting scholar at Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. He’s also co-author of The 100 Year Life and now The New Long-Life. Professor Scott, thanks so much for chatting with me today. Why did you write these books?
Yes, I was a macro economist. I’m interested in the big, long run forces that changed the world around us. But of course, if you boil it down, that’s about how we as individuals respond and change. And I think particularly around technology and also these longer lives that we’re living, we’ve got a negative story about them. We can’t afford to get old. Being old is a problem. When our statistics say that on average, we’re living longer and healthier for longer, which sounds great.
And then technology, there’s a fear that we’re all going to lose our jobs and become kind of the pets of robots. And neither of these things are destiny. We can shape them in a way that we see. So we need to, as individuals, prepare to make the most of it, but also start a social narrative to ensure that smarter machines and longer, healthier lives are good things, and not bad things.
I like the sound of taking control of our narrative. I also like the very practical message in your book about people as we become older, building and maintaining friendships with younger people.
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Yeah, absolutely. We’re going through a real shock because of this demographic transition. There’s a fall in the birth rate. People are living for longer. Everyone talks out about this being more old people, an ageing society. But I think what’s admitted and which is really important is how ageing is changing. We need to do things differently. On average, we’re healthier for longer. We’re doing things differently at different ages at every age.
At every age we’ve got more future. So we need to prepare for it. But the intergenerational stuff is really important because, you know, when I was a kid and I used to go to family gatherings there were loads of people my age, like the siblings and cousins, not many older people. Whereas now, of course, you got a lot more older people and far fewer younger people. We’re going from three generation families to four generation families. And we need to really get those generations to connect much more.
Because in the 20th century, we invented a three stage life, education, work, retirement, and we became very age segregated. We stopped mixing so much. And I think undoing that and rewiring so we get the inter-generational connections is going to be really important.
Based upon that, what should retirement look like in the future? Because I know a lot of people still have a very old fashioned idea about retirement.
So, I mean, retirement is already clearly changing. The idea that there is a single age where everyone comes to a hard stop has gone. It’s not just that retirement age is being pushed up by changes in state pension, but people are just behaving differently. In the UK I heard the other day that one in four people unretire within four or five years. You’re seeing far more people carry on working to older ages. Australia, UK, USA, are all seeing really big increases in the number of people over 70 still working.
So I think first of all, there’s no single model of retirement. Secondly, what we really need to do is prepare to invest in our future self because whatever age you’ve got more time ahead of you than in the past. So how do you do that? Well, of course, at one point it’s about finances. It’s also about health, but it’s also about relationships and purpose.
So I think planning for retirement obviously depends which age you’re at. First of all, if you’re younger, you’re probably going to be carrying on working for longer than you previously thought. So you’ve got to focus not just upon financing your retirement, but making sure you have the skills to pursue a career for long enough to finance your retirement. And then as I say the sense of engagement is important.
In many ways you can see retirement now split into three already. The first stage is where people still carry on working, maybe with their old employer, maybe a startup, maybe something flexible. Then there’s a sort of period where people are sort of well and healthy and travelling a lot more, for instance, or having fun. And then there’s a more traditional sort of frailty, end of life period. But I think diversity is the key and just fashioning your own retirement.
Also, you mentioned technology before, I imagine we need to begin talking more about how we can integrate that into our ageing and use it for good, not evil necessarily.
Yeah. And there’s a massive growth of Agetech, And clearly with COVID we’re seeing a much accelerated take up of using tech to communicate and to live and to shop, et cetera, by older people. So, yes, and I think for me, one of the really interesting ways of using tech is actually around health, because what’s going to be really important as we have more older people, is that we age well. And we’ve got a health system that’s based around interventions when people are ill.
But as COVID shows us the really important thing is to stop people getting ill. So it’s about maintaining your health rather than treating illnesses. And there I think there’s a huge scope for using AI for preventative health to keep monitoring health, keep monitoring activities is really important.
Your book provides a strong call to action to both community and government. What is your strong message to governments around the world?
So we need to start thinking about a narrative of change and trying to find out what people want. I think around an ageing society it’s about making sure we support productive ageing so that we help people work for longer. If all we do is just raise the retirement age, but don’t do anything about skills and health, then actually life becomes pretty miserable. So focus on productive ageing, focus on preventative health is really important.
Around technology I think it’s really, really important that we as a civil society start to say what we want. I really worry that a lot of the tech agenda is driven by corporates who then governments listen to. And corporates kind of tend to have a view that technology is great and humans are flawed so let’s have more technology. But if we’re going to maintain our jobs, we need to have tech that augments our life, augments our work and enables us to really flourish as humans.
I think we stand at a really interesting point with machines, because when machines get better at being machines, humans can hopefully focus more upon being human. So it’s those human skills that need to come to the fore. I’m going to make sure in the workplace that we’re allowed to do that and we’re not just automated out of existence.
Beautifully put, Andrew J. Scott, thanks so much for your time.
My pleasure Tracey. Thank you.