The long view: work implications of greater longevity

Our working lives need to change to reflect greater longevity, including more career breaks and retaining for second or third careers, an ILC webinar heard this week.

Serious pensioner stares into the distance


The rhythm of our working lives needs to change to accommodate increasing life expectancy, including caring responsibilities, reskilling and career breaks, a webinar on changing demographics heard this week.

The webinar, hosted by the International Centre for Longevity and the Government Actuaries Department, heard from Steven Baxter, Head of Innovation and Development at Club Vita, that working life will have to change in terms of its duration, nature and rhythm as people live longer. 

He said the nature of work is already changing in terms of technology and increasing automation, something that Covid has accelerated. It requires new skills and the upskilling of the workforce and retraining for second or more careers. There is a greater demand for reduced hours working over longer periods, for caring reasons and for phased retirement. Iceland’s trial of the four-day week shows that appetite for a reduced working week, said Baxter, who also envisaged that there would be more acceptance of gig working as a result of older people needing to work past state pension age.

Baxter also spoke about the urgent need to address health inequalities. While longevity is increasing, despite slowing down in recent years, health life expectancy is not keeping up with it. That means the period when people are in ill health is growing. Certain conditions and diseases are also increasing, such as dementia, and the impact of health inequality varies greatly by region, with the most deprived having significantly lower life expectancy.

Baxter added that health issues contribute to people’s ability to work past retirement and that the nature of retirement is changing with a move from the ‘cliff edge’ retirement of the old days, when people retired around 65, to a 15-year retirement window stretching from 10 years before the state pension age to five years after. He would like to see employers making health more central to their Corporate Social Responsibility agenda.

Longevity changes

The webinar also heard from Matt Gurden of the Government Actuaries Department. He cited figures which show how the projected change in longevity from 2000 to 2060. In 2060 it is projected that men will live until 88.1 years on average and women until 90.7 years. That compares with 83.8 years for men and 86.8 years for women in 2020. Nineteen per cent of the population are expected to be over 65 by 2030, he said. That compares with under 18% in 2020.

In 2020 people are expected to spend 18.8 years in retirement on average, but by 2060 this is likely to rise to 20.6 years. This takes into account the fact that the retirement age will increase from 66 to 68 by 2060. People will need more funds if they want to have a comfortable retirement. Auto-enrollment can help, but they will also need to save more and they may need to work past retirement – something many are already doing. The number of over 70s still in employment has more than doubled since 2009.

Gurden also commented on the fact that the years of healthy life expectancy for over 65s have increased slightly, but said it is likely people will spend more years in poor health, although there is significant variation across the country. 

There are, he said, a lot of factors that influence people’s working lives, including their family structure – for instance, children living at home until their mid-20s or later, caring responsibilities, housing issues and education. And he added that in 2020 there were nearly four working age people for every pensioner while in 2060 this figure is expected to drop to 3.5, with implications for taxation.

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