Higher Ed and 'The 100-Year Life'

A wonderful book about the future that we all should be talking about.

December 11, 2016

The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in An Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott

Published in June of 2016

What are your favorite examples of future trends that everyone gets wrong?  

I’ll give you 3:

1 - The ‘Jobless Future’: Don’t believe it. The future of employment will rest primarily on our political choices rather than the inevitability of job-stealing robots and advanced AI.

2 - The End of the Liberal Arts: Liberal arts institutions, and the liberal arts, are more durable than they are given credit. The value of a postsecondary education that prioritizes communication, collaboration, and critical thinking will only increase in the future labor market.

3 - A Future of Shorter Life Expectancies: Some recent research showing a dip in life expectancy is getting lots of press attention. Have recent health trends overtaken the premise of The 100-Year Life? Nope. No way. Not a chance.  

The overwhelming weight of the evidence demonstrates conclusively that life expectancy in developed economies is increasing, and will continue to increase over time.  There will be dips and non-linear changes, as well differences among sub-populations, but the overall trend will be towards longer lives.  

Today’s college students have an even chance of living to 100.  Most of those years will be spent in good health.  

Are we preparing today's students for a 100-year future?

The author’s of The 100-Year Life don’t think that we are. 

The world in which today’s postsecondary educational structures were first designed was one of discrete and defined transitions between education, work, and retirement.  We spent our early years in school, moved to 4 decades or so of paid work, and then transitioned to retirement.

In a 100-year life, that plan no longer works. 

The authors of The 100-Year Life estimate that we will need to have an annual retirement income of 50% of our annual working income. They point out that current rates of retirement savings, combined with the probable reductions in Social Security benefits, will leave most people with too little money to finance a 30 year retirement. Very few future 100 year-olds will be able to save the 20% of income that will be necessary to leave the paid labor force at 67.  

In a world where half of us will live to 100, something has to give, and what will give is retiring at 67. 

Those of us who will enjoy the gift of a longer lifespan will end up working well into our 70’s and 80’s.  

If you find the thought of working straight for six decades is exhausting and daunting, you are not alone. What will have to change is the way we structure our work lives. We will need to find ways to take breaks during our lives - breaks that will allow us to recharge and re-skill. 

The rise of adjunct faculty nation may have placed the academic sabbatical in terminal decline - but does not mean that the idea of the sabbatical is not sound. Sabbaticals will need to extend to more workers if companies (and universities) wish to hold on to their most productive workers.

In higher ed, we will need to make good on our rhetoric about educating for a lifetime. 

The future matriculated student will not learn with us for 4 years - but throughout their entire life.  

This is one area where the interests and incentives of schools and students align. Students will need to continually invest in their human capital. Colleges and universities can draw on lifetime learning to diversify their revenues. 

Admission to any school should come with a lifetime pass (maybe not a free pass) for continuous education and credentialing.  

The 100-Year Life is a fantastic book. This is a book about much more than the determinants of increasing longevity. This is a book that considers how individuals, companies, schools, and governments must change to prosper in a world where most people will live long and healthy lives. 

The coming 100-year life should be a gift to all of us. 

We should be thinking hard, and preparing proactively, for our long-lived futures.

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