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Digging into The Stanford Center on Longevity’s Aging Study

Active older people going for a walk

The first line of “The New Map of Life: 100 Years to Thrive,” a report by The Stanford Center on Longevity, is sure to grab your attention: “By the middle of this century, living to the age of 100 will become commonplace.” The report, also known as “The Future of Aging Study,” is designed to guide how society can better take advantage of longer lifespans. It takes a “whole-of-life approach” that urges people to rethink life paths from childhood through retirement in light of increased longevity.

On a practical level, the report provides lots of heavy-hitting advice to policymakers and culture-shapers. Still, it offers ideas that people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s can use now. Here are a few of the most thought-provoking takeaways for those already in the second half of life. 

Celebrate New Milestones  

We tend to view life as a series of transitions: graduating from school, getting a first job, getting married, having children, and finally, retiring. In this rubric, retirement is the last meaningful milestone before death. But if people live to 100, this view puts 35% of a lifetime after the final milestone.  

The Future of Aging Study suggests another way of approaching our progress through our lives: “Rather than associating the second half of life principally with menopause, retirement, and death, we can create social observances around meaningful milestones such as volunteering and mentoring, returning to work, launching an encore career or a new business, downsizing a home, or getting back into the game after illness or injury with physical limitations.” 

Over time, society will likely evolve to mark new life transitions and progressions. In the meantime, we can define our own milestones based on the individual life paths we craft for ourselves.

Embrace Lifelong Learning 

Learning new things is essential to staying relevant and engaged as we age. Living longer is likely to mean going through more stages of life professionally and in our interests and activities. Our current educational system serves people in their early years, but as lifespans increase, educational opportunities must expand to include people of all ages.   

The Future of Aging study presents a vision of spreading formal learning opportunities across our lives called the New Map of Life: “Rather than front-loading formal education into the first two decades of life, the New Map of Life lays out new options for learning outside the confines of formal education, with people of all ages able to acquire the knowledge they need at each stage of their lives and to access it in ways that fit their needs, interests, abilities, schedules, and budgets.” 

As people look to learning as essential to thriving at all ages, more and more educational resources will become available to multigenerational learners. For those who look, there are actually already quite a few opportunities for mature learners, including programs that open up college courses to seniors.

Approach Work Differently 

Those who live 100 years may not have the luxury of retiring at 65 and sitting back for the rest of their lives. It may well be a necessity for many of us to work for more years to support ourselves as we age. Looking at this reality under the current system of cramming work into as few years as possible before hitting a retirement “cliff” is daunting. However, according to the Future of Aging Study, living longer is likely to mean going through more stages professionally and in our interests and activities. In the future, working life will likely extend over many more years with breaks in between.

The Future of Aging Study compares our work lives to a meal, “Rather than 30 years of work being the main course of a 70-year life span, for centenarians, life will be the main course and work a series of side dishes, served over the course of many decades.”  

Those already retired might take inspiration from this perspective to start a new income-earning venture or return to a traditional job to bring structure, socialization, and earnings into their later lives.  

Value Your Age  

Older people bring a lot to families, communities, and societies—yet that hasn’t been the dominant narrative about aging. That’s partly because it hasn’t been very long since we’ve had older people living long amongst us: In 1900, life expectancy was a mere 47. But even as living longer has become more common, it’s only in recent decades that older adults are living particularly active, healthy lives.  

The greater presence of engaged older people provides societies and communities with a higher level of “age diversity,” which is a net positive for everybody. This shift is enough to redefine how we live collectively and approach life individually in important ways.  

“This era of unprecedented age diversity means society benefits from a complementarity of skills and abilities that people develop over their lives,” states the report. “The speed, strength, and zest for discovery common in younger people, combined with the emotional intelligence and wisdom prevalent among older people, create possibilities for families, communities, and workplaces that haven’t existed before.” 

Older adults can recognize and value what they bring to their communities and society.  

Shift Your Perception

The prominent narrative about our aging society tends to be negative, focusing on a “gray tsunami” of burdensome older people overwhelming society’s resources. But, the report counters, “a static view of what it means to age distorts our perspectives about longevity in the future and our measure of the true costs and benefits.”  

This sentiment is a call to action for those figuring out how to approach the later decades of their lives. There’s no reason to wait for society to start acknowledging, supporting, and valuing your presence. Instead, take the reigns and start embracing and celebrating aging in your own way. 

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