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What the ‘Longevity Revolution’ Means to Financial Services

Imagine that the person who ends up living to be 150 years old already has been born. That is exactly what CNBC contributor Ron Insana said to the attendees of the 2017 Financial Planning Association Conference in Nashville.

In 2015, the average life expectancy for a newborn was 78.8 years. The National Center for Health Statistics lists the life expectancy for the average male at 76.3 years and 81.2 years for women. 

Japan currently has the  longest-living population reported in the world. Experts claim that because of active lifestyles, good diets and supportive family structure, the average 60-year-old can anticipate living until age 86. The oldest-lived documented individual was Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 at age 122 years and 168 days.

Sonia Arrison, author of 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith, believes that her toddler son has a chance of living to 150. She contends that we are experiencing a “longevity revolution” and that soon triple-digit life spans will not be an exception but the norm.

This increase in longevity is a result of tremendous strides made by scientists in areas such as growing new organs from adult human stem cells, creating body parts with 3-D printers, and the holy grail of biological engineering: using gene therapy to successfully treat diseases such as hereditary blindness and leukemia. Further, numerous scientists and billionaires in Silicon Valley are working tirelessly to reverse the aging process using blood transfusions.

It all sounds like something out of a science fiction novel. However, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau along with the National Institute on Aging, the population of those 90 and older has nearly tripled over the past 30 years, reaching 1.9 million in 2010. It is projected that this population segment will more than quadruple over the next four decades.

By 2050, people 90 and older will comprise 10 percent of the older population (individuals age 65 and over). This represents a significant increase from 1980 and 2010, when the rate was a mere 2.8 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.

Although improvements in lifestyle and advances in medicine and technology can increase our average life expectancy, we have to stop and ask a few questions. What does this mean for work? What does it mean for planning? A research psychologist at the Life-span Development Lab at Stanford University, Tamara Sims, said, “My mentor Laura Carstensen talks about redesigning the model and expanding our definition of middle age. It requires a cultural change, no easy task.”


Borrow Time

Sims suggests that people “borrow time from their golden years.” Translation — consider working part time in the early years. “This would allow time to pursue creative goals, raise a family and stay healthy,” with the understanding that an early retirement of age 50 or 55 is a thing of the past.

We will need to rethink work and life in general. Social science gerontologist Dawn Carr said, “It’s not realistic to think you’ll spend 30 years working to finance 60 years of life.” She recommends that Generation Y and Generation Z be more deliberate in selecting careers that “allow you to grow and develop over a long time. You may want to recognize that your work life very well should continue much later than we’ve been conceiving. Meaningful work can give you purpose and value, and enhance later life.”

Is it me or does this sound like an endorsement for a career as a financial advisor?

A longer life expectancy requires us to rethink our plans for retirement. If studies show that Americans already have a retirement savings shortage, how much worse does the problem become if we are expected to live to age 150? What does this mean for groups such as minorities and women who suffer more negative financial outcomes, especially in their senior years?

This puts an even greater emphasis on the importance of early financial education and retirement planning.


Jocelyn Wright is the chair of The State Farm Center for Women and Financial Services at The American College. Jocelyn may be contacted at [email protected] .

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