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Turning 100: What living longer means to an aging population

Q. I recently have read a lot about living to be 100. It seems that it’s close to becoming a reality. It sounds good but I have some concerns. What are your thoughts on this topic?

Indeed, we are hearing a lot about living to be 100 with feature stories about centenarians’ secrets in living a long life. We learn about diets, life extension and research on interventions that may impede or reverse aging and extend longevity. There is the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University and the Longevity Genes Project at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Add to that the Gerontology Research Group meeting at UCLA tracking the oldest living people and the Blue Zones project studying the lifestyle habits of the longest-lived folks on the planet.

In the U.S. there are about 90,000 centenarians who are 100 years or older, which is nearly twice as many as there were 20 years ago. In California, that number is 8,000. Furthermore, about half of current five-year-olds in the U.S. can expect to live to age 100 which likely will be the norm for newborns by 2050.

Most people want to live that long a life if their physical and mental functions are intact. That’s my experience in addressing many diverse groups. I often begin my talks with, “How many here today want to live to be 100?” About three or four hands go up. When I rephrase the question, “How many would like to live to be 100 if they are doing well physically and mentally?” almost all hands are raised whether it is a group of 20 or 1,000.

There are concerns about a rapidly aging population: Alzheimer’s disease, ageism, economic disparities, adequate and accessible health care and affordable housing to name a few.

Yet, there is a different approach to aging that is optimistic and looks at possibilities. Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London School of Business, and Andrew Scott, professor of economics at the same school, are co-authors of “The 100-Year Life” (Bloomsbury, 2016). They suggest we have an opportunity to restructure our lives to live that longer life. The traditional pathways of education, work and then retirement is a “pathway that is already beginning to collapse.” Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Longevity Center and the New Map of Life initiative, advocates the same. Let’s take a futurist approach and recognize longevity as an opportunity for life redesign, a gift that has already started.

The authors suggest 14 changes that are likely or necessary to support this longevity. Here are just four of those changes:

People will work into their 70s and 80s: It’s happening. About 650,000 folks over age 80 were working this past year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the age 75 and older group is the only one expected to grow over a 10-year period. The lack of a pension keeps many older adults working. In addition to general economic need, some think work provides a sense of purpose, a place to go, and structure.

New jobs will emerge and skills needed. It’s happening now. AI, machine learning and robots are creating new jobs at a fast rate and will likely replace many existing ones. These include jobs related to back-office processing, sales, marketing, office management and administration. Currently, there are concerns about job replacements involving creativity, education, law and more. Working in later life will require time to invest in re-learning and re-skilling according to the authors. Brushing up on old skills will not suffice.

Finances are important but not everything. Planning financially for a long life is essential, but there is more. Crucial components of a life well lived include friendships, mental health, having a sense of

purpose and happiness. Balance is key. One cannot have “a long and financially successful career if your skills, health and relationships are depleted,” according to the authors.

Life will become multi-staged. This three-staged life is still dominant for most people. The new multi-staged life will include two to three careers. One stage may be working long hours for many weeks earning as much as possible. Another stage may be balancing work around a family’s schedule or taking a position that makes a social contribution to society. Additional stages may include taking time for leisure pursuits or for further education or skill training.

Transitions will become the norm. The usual transitions are from education to employment and then employment to retirement. With more stages, we will have more transitions that will require us to be flexible, open to new information and to view the world with different perspectives. The authors call these skills transformational, important for that 100-year life.

Stay tuned next week for other expected as well as needed changes to support this new longevity. Stay well, and of course, always be kind.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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