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BOUND TO PLEASE / A very long engagement gets longer

By Tom Baker / Japan News Staff WriterThe 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity

By Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott

Bloomsbury, 264pp

In 1963, in all of Japan, the government counted just 153 people over the age of 100. Last year, there were 65,692 people that old. There will soon be even more. The average child in a developed nation today has a 50-50 chance of living well past the century mark, according to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

In “The 100-Year Life,” the two London Business School professors warn that governments, companies and individuals are unprepared for what this will mean. Their most important point is that the 20th-century model of a “three-stage life” — made up of education, then work, then retirement — will go right out the window.

A 40-year working career might have been enough to finance a five- or 10-year retirement, but it will not finance a 30-year retirement. Inevitably, people will have to work longer.

“No single specialization is likely to be sufficient to support productivity over long working careers,” they write. “And given the rate of technological churn, any specialization runs a high risk of obsolescence. So it is more likely that people will choose to specialize at one stage in their working life and then later re-specialize as they shift into other intellectual areas and activities.”

Change will be essential. If you thought burnout was a problem among people doing the same job for 40 years, imagine the effect of clocking in for 60 years.

The authors predict a new life model of five or more stages, with an “explorer” stage between education and work (longer and more significant than a “gap year”), and possibly later periods as an “independent producer” (a freelancer working on projects to build up skills and contacts for an eventual return to more traditional employment), and a “portfolio” period of dividing one’s time among a variety of part-time occupations.

Each of these stages would likely be separated by a transitional period with little or no work income, meaning that one would have to save up money to finance the transition periods as well as to finance one’s ultimate retirement. It might also mean that one would need a spouse or partner with whom to take turns supporting each other as each half of the couple goes through transitions at different times.

The authors suggest this is one reason that longer lives and greater gender equality will likely go hand-in-hand. Another is that child-rearing will take up a proportionally shorter portion of a longer life.

And that leads to the topic of marriage. “Being in an unhappy marriage when you are 70 and expect to live to 100 is very different from being in the same situation when life expectancy is 75.” On a brighter note, they point out that as people tend to marry later — perhaps with a foundation of greater self-knowledge from an “explorer” period — they may choose partners more wisely and form more durable relationships.

This book does not pretend to have all the answers, but it does raise important questions. You’ll have a long time to think about them — and even longer to live with the consequences.

Where to Read

At home. Look around and ask yourself, “Is this where I want to celebrate my 100th birthday?”

Maruzen price: ¥3,310 plus tax (as of April 14, 2017)Speech

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