The Upside of Longevity

story_images_watch_out_old_peopleAs a speaker at this fall’s Investment Innovation Conference in Palo Verde, CA (October 28 to 30),  Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D., director, Stanford Center on Longevity; professor of Psychology and the Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr. professor in Public Policy  will lead a session on the impact of aging on society. In advance of the conference, we asked Laura a few questions about how much longevity has increased, what impast it has on older people and how that affects both the workplace and culture. To find out more about Laura’s presentation and the Investment Innovation Conference, click here.

Both Canada and the U.S. now have more residents who are over 65 than under 15. What are we doing about that?

Rather than saying wow, isn’t this cool, rather than making the best of these years, we’ve tacked them on at the end. The only stage in life that got longer was retirement. So that’s now going to be 30 or 40 years and the handwringing began about having old people taking all the resources — I think it’s crazy. We will adapt to this. We look to culture to tell us how to live our lives – it’s not like we all independently decided that college age should be between 17 and 20.

Culture today hasn’t changed nearly enough. We’re still saying we’re going to work like a dog, raise our families at the same time, we’re going to pack everything into the middle. That made a lot of sense when we died at 60.

So we have this opportunity to stretch out life now, to really rethink.

Older people have a different perspective on time.

We kept finding in study after study that older people were not sad, not lonely, not depressed. In fact on the contrary they looked like they were doing better emotionally than younger people were. If there’s a paradox, if there’s an irony about life and aging, it’s that when people start to see that their time is limited, they see life as more precious and motivation changes. People come to pursue goals that are about emotional satisfaction.

You suggest that older people are very interested in injustice.

I think older societies are going to be great societies. They’re going be more just societies because of the people in the population who are going to say: “I am old enough to know injustice when I see it and experienced enough to know what to do about it.”

People have more knowledge and have more concern about justice and having millions of citizens around the globe who feel that way will be good for all of us.

How will the workplace change?

What percentage of the population in any developed country could work for 40 years and make enough money to not work for another 30? It’s just an impossibility for most people. But the more we learn about work and its benefits, it just doesn’t make any sense You get lots of benefits from work, it looks like work is good for cognitive processing and functioning, it’s good for physical health, emotional health. It’s going to make sense for people to work a lot longer.

Who’s going to jump start that?

There’s the baby boomer generation, so we’re going to have a lot of people in a generation going through the entry into old age and if they’re feeling healthy and capable and they need money, then they’re going to keep working.

And in Germany, for example, after many years of trying to develop plans for graceful exits for many of their older people and get them to retire, they’re now trying to devise ways to get them to stop. Research findings are appearing with greater regularity showing that having older people in the workforce decreases turnover in younger workers and increases their performance.

By and large at a macroeconomic level it’s good for an economy when people stay engaged and continue to work. Work seems to have benefits for older people and it certainly has benefits when older people are in the workplace.