‘It’s taken me to the age of 60 to realise what’s happening – I want to ensure my sons start earlier’ – the words of a client working through the impact of living longer on himself and his family. My response? – don’t be too harsh on yourself, when you started working in the mid 1970s the phenomenal recent increase in global life expectancy was only just starting and no one was predicting it to happen – or the consequences.

What am I talking about? According to UN research between 1965 and 2015 average human life expectancy globally has increased from aged 46 to nearly 70 – a 50% increase in 50 years! In developed countries the increase has been less dramatic but in many ways more profound. For example, over the same period in the UK Life expectancy increased from 66 to over 80. And the impact?

  • Nearly all private sector defined benefit pension schemes have closed
  • Public sector pensions have taken longer, but are following this trend
  • Employees will only be able to retire when they can afford to do so
  • It has been made unlawful to force someone out of work due to their age
  • The state retirement age has already increased from 65 and is set to increase further
  • Spending on the NHS has gone up each year since it was launched in 1948, and is now over £2bn per week.
  • There is a growing issue of under-occupied houses being blocked by the elderly
  • The UK is experiencing a loneliness epidemic – especially amongst the elderly

But this is just the start….

  • If you are in your 20s and have just started work, you should plan for a 70 years working life
  • During this time you can expect multiple careers interspersed by breaks for re-training
  • 70% of privately held investible assets are controlled by people over 65
  • The growing cost of housing makes it difficult for anyone to start on the property ladder
  • Across Europe there are three people over 65 for every two aged 14 and under
  • Mass global migration is inevitable as it starts to balance out continental inequities

What are the long-term consequences?

As Darwin explained, when their food grew higher up the tree it took the horse’s ancestors 10 000 generations to evolve into the giraffe. We are only at the start of our journey so how we evolve to make the most of our extra years is difficult to predict. One thing is certain, anyone (like my client) who is already thinking about the changes needed has not been caught sleeping. They have the advantage of being able to learn from others. Sadly, they will find many examples of people who are not enjoying later life as well as a few who are. We can all learn much from both groups and if we do we can improve our prospects of living a long, happy and healthy life.

Written by John Small

John’s business career started in the technology sector working with ICL and Fujitsu before moving to International Finance where organisational change and development has been a constant theme.