People are living longer thanks to advances in medicine, public health and other factors. Is living longer a gift or a curse? Is longevity dividend real? How are countries, societies, businesses and individuals adapting to it? What happens if we all live till 100 years?
This essay is broken into two sections – the first one providing the Indian context from demographic forecasts, and the second on how we can redesign lives for a 100 year lifespan based on global research.
21 May, 2022
Section 1: Longevity Dividend
The national skill development policy of the country was formulated in 2009 (and revised in 2015) on the basis of estimates that India will have the world’s largest working age population by 2022, and hence there was a massive need to address the skilling needs of youth to contribute to the economic development of the country. Over the past decade, both the government and multi-lateral institutions (like World Bank, ADB, etc.) have invested billions of dollars in such programs, both at the central and state levels. This is largely referred to as the demographic dividend, how we can reap dividends from having one of the world’s youngest populations.
On the other end of this demographic dividend is a case for formulating a long-term approach to leverage the talent of older adults and also business opportunities in designing new products and services suited to them, i.e., longevity dividend. Let us start by looking at some data available in public domain and see how we are placed in India.
The Government’s Economic Survey 2019-20 provides some interesting insights into how the country is ageing, albeit unevenly. The overall 60+ population in India is expected to rise from 104.2 Mn in 2021 to 239.4 Mn in 2041, accounting for 15.7% of the total population, from 9.7% as it stands today.
The overall population growth is expected to slow sharply in the next two decades, and with Total Fertility Rate (TFR) as low as 1.6-1.7 in states such as Delhi, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, we are likely to see the emergence of two types of states – aged and ageing – as early as 2031.
The survey categorizes populations into three age cohorts – 0-19 years, 20-59 years and 60 and above. The 20 to 59 years cohort is regarded as the working age population as they directly contribute to the economy while the rest are too young to join the labour market (and invested in gaining education and skills), or have exited from it (after a productive work life). While longevity is breaking down the barriers between the latter two cohorts, it is also contextually ill-suited to how different sections of populations function (for example, those in the informal economy in India do not have a prescribed retirement age). Regardless, decision makers in the government use these as baselines to plan broader policies and implement the many programs.
Based on the economic survey data for the 60 and above population across a few large states, one can draw some quick insights.
While it may seem that the general population of 60 and above is rising across board, it has to be looked at in the context of other factors.
– Maharashtra will see an increase of its 60 and above population by 8.2% during the period while the working age population as a % of total population will remain almost the same. During this period, the population growth is estimated to be 5.8%, less than half of the national average of 12.1% during the same period.
– In Tamil Nadu, while the 60 and above population will rise by almost 9.3%, the working age population will decline by 3%. The population growth is estimated to be around 2%, the lowest among all states, and will likely see degrowth in the second period.
– In Uttar Pradesh, the 60 and above population is set to rise by 4% (~32.3 Mn in absolute numbers) and the working age population is set to rise by 7.6%. The population growth during the period is estimated to be 17.3%, accounting for 18% of India’s population.
The analysis presented is limited (and easily expandable in both scope and complexity) but one can notice that states face unique demographic transitions, and thus need more localized approaches.
While inter-state migration has helped stabilize the ratio of working-age population in more developed states and allowed them to stay competitive, the Interstate Migrant Policy Index (IMPEX), which measures receiver states on 8 parameters, found only three states (Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan) to score above 50. The seven states of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala that attract 51% of India’s inter-state migrants also happen to be some of the states where the percentage of population of people over 60 years is rising above national average. Recognizing the demographic disparities across states, and balancing developmental objectives with these shifts is thus quite critical in any planning exercise.
In a previous essay – Future of Ageing – I briefly touched upon how various countries are evolving new approaches to solve for these demographic transitions, and how India’s own policy framework has evolved since the 1990s. More recent government interventions like increasing retirement age, ensuring health insurance coverage for all, promoting silver entrepreneurship, tweaking pension schemes, developing model guidelines for retirement homes, launching a national eldercare helpline, etc. are extremely positive developments, and with a more coherent longevity-focused policy and better coordination, these interventions can have disproportional returns in the long run. Many organizations across the world are evoling talent strategies to stay competitive by leveraging older workers and this Deloitte report on human capital provides a few recommendations on how organizations can tap into the older talent pool, and benefit from this trend.
Lack of credible data (e.g., out of pocket expenditure among 60+ and 80+ with and without health insurance, financial disease-wise burden on older adults, etc.) continues to affect research into the space leaving us with very little insight into how a large section of our population is ageing, consuming, and accessing care.
Section 2: (Re)designing for a 100 Year Life
Professor Jay Olshansky, an ageing science researcher at the University of Illinois in Chicago, makes a case for longevity dividend and stresses the importance of healthy life as the primary goal for such interventions.
The US-based Pew research center, quoting the 2015 UN’s world population prospects report, mentions that the number of centenarians (people living to the age of hundred) rose from 95,000 in 1990 to 451,000 in 2015, and estimated to be over 3.7 million by 2050. In short, around 24 out of 100 adults over the age of 65 years is likely to be a centenarian. India, home to 104.2 Mn adults over 60 years in 2021, is also one of the countries where the centenarian population is rising, along with the US, Japan, China and Italy. The 2019 UN report further highlights this trend and mentions how the 80+ population is expected to triple from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million by 2050. To put this in context, 2018 was also the first year when persons over 65 years outnumbered children under five years globally. These reports provide a global perspective around longevity, and how demographics around the world are changing.
Now, what happens when people (en masse) live till 100?
The book 100 Year Life published in 2016 by London Business School professors’ Lynda Gratton and Andrew J Scott documents how the conventional three stage life (education, work, retirement) will morph into a multi-stage life, and how individuals need to make choices to ensure living longer is a gift, and not a curse. If you are curious about the book and want a glimpse into their findings around savings, extended careers and much more, you may like to check out this video (1 hour 20 mins) hosted by LBS.
The 100-year life website also offers a diagnostic tool to calculate assets (tangible and intangible) required to support longer lives and provides a quick feedback report with scores.
On the other side of the Atlantic, researchers at the Stanford Center for Longevity (SCL), launched the New Map of Life project in 2018, with a focus on digging deeper into different stages of a 100-year life. After close to two years of multi- and inter-disciplinary collaborative work, the SCL launched the New Map of Life Extended Report in April 2022. Here is a quick extract from the report,
The SCL team complemented this effort with a Fellowship and a Design Challenge, in its 10th edition now, and is open to university students across the globe. Each edition has a very specific set of challenge goals and the 2022 edition is inviting student designers to create solutions on optimizing health span, with winners and finalists receiving cash prizes and mentorship opportunities.
The Longevity Project, which hosts the Century Summit in collaboration with the SCL, is another wonderful resource to access events, podcasts, and learn more about different pillars of the original research agenda – financial security, lifelong learning, caregiving and lifelong health.
In this interview, David Sinclair, Director at the International Longevity Centre in the UK, talks about the impact of longevity on economies around the world, and why it is important for welfare states to support 100-year lives. It is also one of the themes in the book The Great Narrative by Prof Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF.
Research and understanding around longevity is ongoing around the world, and projects such as these help us think about (re)designing our lives for a longer lifespan. Some of the insights from these projects may lead to fundamental transformations in how societies function (later school entry, extended working careers and more), making it both fascinating and intriguing, beyond just the numbers.
Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, with your feedback and comments.
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