21st Century Work-Life Model: Changing Norms Combat Ageism

By Michael Hodin

It’s fitting that in the second year of the Decade of Healthy Ageing, a wealth of new research illustrates how tens of millions of people worldwide are pioneering a new, more vibrant approach to life, work, and leisure for our era of longevity. Globally respected organizations, including none other than the World Economic Forum, Bank of America, and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, have all published recent reports of impressive research that indicate how the traditional “learn-work-retire” model is shifting towards a new concept, one with greater opportunity and different dynamics than traditional retirement.

Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of AgeWave predicted this transformation over three decades ago, which he famously and presciently showed graphically here — that longevity would change how we live our lives, integrating the benefits of longevity into our life course. And that it would also have direct impact on how, when or if we retire, at least as it was understood in the last century.

And as Ken surmised then, we also now know that this transformation is an organic, bottom-up shift driven by people who are choosing to live and work in new ways — much like the rise of flexible, hybrid work. However, this shift may prove to be even more profound and longer lasting, since it’s grounded in the irreversible realities of longer lives and more old than young. For most people, it simply no longer makes sense to automatically end all work and engagement at 60 or 65, when we have the ability to continue working, contributing, and earning for decades past this outmoded retirement age.

Just consider the seminal 2022 report from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS), which marks more than two decades of research at the forefront of this critical topic. Among many fascinating insights, the report finds that the majority of workers plan to continue working at least part-time in retirement. The report outlines a changing landscape where people want, expect, and need to work longer and differently, as a natural consequence of living longer. Of course, this has important implications for finances, health, housing, family relationships, and other aspects of life, which are all inextricably intertwined.

To navigate the shift, people need new tools and guidance, especially as long-standing assumptions and “rules of thumb” become outdated. In this area, recent research outlines fundamental changes that everyone — businesses, employers, policymakers, and individuals — must account for:

· People are reimagining retirement for a variety of reasons. According to TCRS, those planning or already working past 65 are doing so because they want to stay active (50%), enjoy what they do (41%), and find a sense of purpose at work (37%). And, of course, 47% simply want the income. This combination of personal, financial, and health-related reasons provides strong motivation to move beyond traditional retirement and embrace greater activity, engagement, and opportunity, for longer.

· Longer-tenured workers are more effective and productive. A collaboration between the World Economic Forum and Mercer takes aim at the pernicious, ageist myth that older workers are somehow less valuable than their younger colleagues. In fact, an in-depth study from Mercer finds that “tenure positively affects unit performance whereas age has no effect … We believe it is time to ratchet up the prominence of research results showing that age has no consistently detrimental impact on business performance.”

· Women, in particular, want investment knowledge and financial empowerment for longer lives. That’s according to the latest report from Bank of America, Women, money, confidence — A lifelong relationship, which finds that while the majority of women report doing well with day-to-day finances, many are struggling to build wealth and save for the financial needs of longer lives. As a result, “there is an immediate need to increase investing knowledge among women to help them feel empowered to make financial decisions affecting their future.”

· People need new tools to build their health and wealth. While individuals are clearly opting for this new life-course model, they need new kinds of support and tools to fully achieve it. Financial services companies can provide clients with longevity-informed resources designed for the greater financial needs — and opportunities — of longer lives. And those financial opportunities also depend on good health, underscoring the critical importance of healthy aging as outlined by the WHO and the UN.

We have reached a tipping point, as leading global organizations from across sectors are turning their attention to these critical topics. But it will continue only if we also make progress on one of the four core areas of the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing — To Combat Ageism — which, at once, will also itself propel the trend itself as companies, public policies and the culture together embed the idea that 20th century retirement — the 20th century model of learn-work-retire — is itself gone. All of these ideas will be on the agenda at GCOA’s High-Level Forum on the Silver Economy, held on November 8–9 later this year. We’re excited to hear from the experts and leaders at the forefront of this massive shift, as people around the world build a new model to make the most of long lives.

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