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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

If we live longer, how should life change? There is a drawing.

This article is part of our latest special DealBook report on trends that will shape the coming decades.


Most children born in developed countries now have a good chance of making it to their 100th birthday. They are also willing to live, study, work and retire in systems and institutions that were created when their grandparents were children.

Careers and education in the United States (and most developed countries) have evolved to meet the needs of a different era than the one we live in now – an era in which people (mostly white and male) who graduated from college received it. … everyone is 20 years old; in which people left work at the age of 65 and often died after about ten years; it was assumed that half of the population (of course women) would remain available full-time for family care.

But as improvements in infant mortality and health rates increased life expectancy at birth by several decades – and, for the wealthiest, many additional years of health in old age – life in developed countries has progressed faster than institutions designed to support them. said Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology at Stanford University and founding director of the Stanford Center for Longevity.

As a result, we spend these longer lives under the stress of having to conform to systems that don’t really fit – not later in life, not in decades prior.

“People are social creatures. We are very sensitive to culture, and the culture in which we live today was formed in half the time, ”she said. “It just doesn’t work. We need new sets of social scenarios and norms that will allow us to live much longer. ”

Ms. Carstensen and her colleagues at the Longevity Center offer a potential way out of this confusion. This month, the center released a report titled A New Map of Life — a blueprint for what education, careers, cities, and life changes might look like if they were designed for a life spanning a century (or more).

One of the central theses of the report is that there is a problem with rhythm in modern life. Middle age is uncomfortably overburdened with career and caring responsibilities, while many older adults find they have no purpose, no connections, or income to live comfortably.

The US Government Accountability Office estimates that as of 2016, nearly half of US households headed by someone 55 years of age or older had no retirement savings.

To even out the pace, The New Life Map recommends that education be a lifelong project, not a sprint squeezed into childhood and early adulthood, and that careers be allocated so that people work more years but with fewer work days. on weekdays and fewer hours a day.

The report also suggests more investment in early childhood, which he says will ultimately improve outcomes at all stages of life, and to normalize and support the transition to and from work when people are having children, caring for vulnerable family members. or carry diseases. …

“We need to extend life,” said Ms. Carstensen. “This is a tremendous opportunity to improve the quality of life at any age.”

It took the Stanford scientists three years to produce the report. It will take much longer to change ossified institutions and entrenched cultural expectations.

“I think it’s water dripping on a rock,” said Andrew Scott. Research Fellow at the Stanford Longevity Center.

Mr. Scott noted that there is a cultural priority for rethinking life expectancy: the modern concept of adolescence and retirement as distinct phases of life only emerged in the last century.

But polarization and political sclerosis made policy change much more difficult than it was in the mid-20th century. The pandemic has highlighted the growing despair many families face when working and caring for, while exacerbating political divisions that impede meaningful action.

The Biden administration’s social spending bill originally contained a series of policies that directly addressed many of the issues cited in the report, including two years of free local college, 12 weeks of paid family leave, and a permanent extension of the child loan. All of them have been discarded or drastically reduced.

At the moment, the life path described in the New Map of Life, in which people have access to many educational and career opportunities and reach old age with decent health and economic stability, is by no means a universal experience. Virtually every factor that contributes to a longer, healthier life – quality health care, adequate nutrition, access to exercise, and a safe living environment – is easier to obtain than you will get richer.

And a 2015 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that nearly all of the gains in life expectancy from people born in the 1930s and 1960s went to people in the 60 percent of the top 60 percent of the income distribution.

“Longer life exacerbates inequality,” said Ilana Horwitz, a sociologist and assistant professor of Jewish studies at Tulane University, who was one of nine postdoctoral fellows at the Longevity Center assigned to the project.

The report talks about how we can make aging, which is actually just another word for life, healthier and more equitable experiences for all. The challenge lies in persuading legislators, employers, educational institutions and the public to consider alternatives to some of the most deeply ingrained models of our culture.

The center is currently working on appointing new researchers to study how to translate these proposals into reality. The map becomes a lot more useful when you actually start moving.

“Life will change,” said Ms. Carstensen. “It’s hard to understand what the first step should be. In many ways, we are in the most difficult place. ”

Corinne Purtill is a Los Angeles-based journalist who writes about science, health and longevity.

World Nation News Desk
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