How longevity and the Future of Work will transform all sectors

Dr Jean Accius, Senior Vice President for Thought Leadership & International Affairs, AARP

The big economic story of late has been all about technology. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and big data, all part of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, dominate headlines, and understandably so. After all, the shifts are unprecedented and revolutionizing, with implications that span the range of society.

But the same can be said of another huge trend, for it promises to produce change that is in some ways equally profound. That trend is longevity and the ageing of the population. From a workplace and business perspective, the longevity trend affects employers and employees. It affects organization’s products and services as well as the consumers of those products and services. It affects infrastructure, and it affects workers’ families. In other words, as with the latest technology revolution, it affects everything and everyone.

The Implications of Longevity

People are living longer, and the population is ageing. According to leading researchers, the average 10-year old child who lives in a nation with one of the longest average life spans can expect to live to at least 100. That means up to six decades of work. Today in the U.S., 10,000 people turn 65 every day, and in just 11 years, millennials, who already represent the largest generation in the labor force, will start to turn 50.

Not surprisingly, more people want or need to work in their later years. Today many people no longer see their career’s end goal to be full retirement and a life of leisure; instead, the vision for later life may be a new career, partial employment or simply the continued gratification of continued work. Perhaps most importantly, more years of life mean the need for more financial resources. Working later in life both pays the bills during those extra years of work and also means more years of saving for whenever one chooses to, or must, stopping working.

Business Opportunity and Imperative

Fortunately, the era of older workers is good news for all stakeholders, particularly employers Research shows that productivity is highest when generations work side-by-side, that diverse teams drive better financial returns, and that mixed-age teams outperform others. Employers benefit from the retention of intellectual capital, a more stable, productive and engaged workforce, and closer alignment to market needs.

Yet this vision is not merely an exciting opportunity; it’s a must. With an ever-increasing proportion of all workers being what was once considered “older,” failing to tap later-career talent could mean worker-shortage challenges. Further, any organization providing a product or service—that is, all organizations including those in the private-, government- and nonprofit sectors—must understand their inevitably ageing customers. Age diversity, therefore, becomes a business imperative in that respect as well. AARP’s recently released Longevity Economy Outlook finds that economic activity driven by people ages 50-plus totals $8.3 trillion, accounting for 56 cents of every dollar spent in the U.S., and those numbers will only rise. Understanding that market is a necessity.

Finally, there is the importance of corporate responsibility. Today, customers and investors expect companies to maintain high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards; age must be a part of an organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts to drive good governance and ensure sustainability. Age diversity, therefore, is not only good for society, it’s good business.

Action Required

Yet as with anything, tapping the opportunities of an age-diverse workforce requires planning and investment. To harness the power of this trend rather than get blindsided by it, all sectors must come together to design and plan with intention. Executives need to think creatively about talent – how to value it, where to find it, how to unleash it and how to keep it. Fostering a climate of respect and fairness for all – including opportunities for meaningful work and skills development – is crucial.

Policies affecting recruitment, assessment, retention, compensation, life-long learning, health and wellness and retirement all need to be age- and stage-inclusive. To build a thriving age- inclusive workforce, employers must reimagine benefit packages and recruitment and retention practices. They should reimagine training and development, ensuring everyone gets opportunities to contribute, no matter their stage or age. One example: “Returnship” programs that broaden the options for people starting a new life chapter, such as after parenting, or for former retirees who wish to resume working, help an organization attain and retain critical skills.

As with the technology revolution touching all aspects of our lives, government has an equally important role to play. Policy addressing paid time off for family caregiving is one example, while strong policy can also help enable workers to be retrained or pursue more education.

AARP is helping to accelerate the pace of change by, among other efforts, teaming up with the World Economic Forum and OECD in an effort called “Living, Learning and Earning Longer.” The initiative, which engages some of the most prominent global companies and organizations, will further build the business case for age diversity and highlight best practices from around the world.

Reality Check: Ageing’s Disparity

It’s time for a reality check. Despite the opportunity, challenges are already here, for the benefits of longevity are not reaching everyone, with differences in income and inequity driving disparities in life-expectancy. Moreover, not everyone can work longer. Health concerns or caring for a loved one full time can end workers’ paid employment, to name just two factors. In addition, some jobs are not suited for older works. Employers and policy makers must address and factor in these issues.

Further, another matter arises concerning age, health and work. Traditionally, science and medicine (and even the public) have focused on extending lifespan, but we now understand the importance of health span—that is, that healthy longevity is necessary to both work and quality of life. We also now understand that work has health benefits (and social benefits, also related to health), making all these pieces inextricably linked.

Identifying strategies and priorities to enable healthy longevity is key. Toward that, AARP is sponsoring the National Academy of Medicine’s (NAM) Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity. As part of those efforts, AARP is taking a leadership role to ensure that issues of equity are a core focus.

Our Choice

We can’t alter demographic trends, yet today we nevertheless stand at a crossroads. We can either ignore these trends and wait to see what happens, or we can embrace them, plan and create. We can design how we want our changing world to look and tap its great opportunity.

The choice is ours.



This article is an extract from the Longevity Trends 2020 report.

The report captures Longevity Leaders' extensive research into this space, including the most important longevity trends of 2020 that businesses, policy makers, scientists and the general population need to be aware of.

You can download a free copy here

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