The longevity imperative

Andrew J Scott’s new book on longevity outlines the case for a rethinking of our ageing society, focused on the opportunity of bringing people together of all generations.

Happy older woman looking up studio shot


Tired of all the constant negatives about our ageing society? What if we looked at our longevity in a different way and saw it not just as a series of problems, but as a way of looking at how we age at all stages of our lives?

That’s the thrust of a new book by Andrew J Scott. The Longevity Imperative: Building a Better Society for Healthier, Longer Lives starts from the premise of time. What would we do if we had an extra hour in the day or an extra week in the year? Time is such a precious commodity these days when we are working flat out while managing family responsibilities. Everyone can relate to more time. Scott says we already have more because we have been living longer in general for many years, despite some recent setbacks in some communities. He says that means we need to rethink our whole lives, not just the later years, in order to “age well”. 

He argues that longevity is given far too little attention, given its importance and how it impacts many areas of our lives and that it is misrepresented in terms of being only about more older people. He says “debate about an ageing society rarely goes beyond mention of spiraling health costs, a pensions crisis, dementia and care homes”. It should not just be about the end of life, but about all of life, says Scott, and positioning it as such means we can avoid the kind of generational conflicts we see today and can engage the young.

An evergreen agenda

Scott talks about the need for society to adopt an ‘evergreen’ agenda, which covers everything from intergenerational fairness and ageism to financial changes and work.

The book covers all these areas and says Government needs to focus on an agenda that is about supporting healthy ageing and is focused more on prevention of major chronic health issues. The penalty if we don’t adapt is that we will be trapped in “a never-ending cycle of dealing with age-related issues based on norms, institutions and behaviours that aren’t geared toward supporting longer lives”, says Scott.

While most of the book is taken up with changing people’s outlook on longevity and financial and other change, there is also a section on work. First, Scott looks at it from the perspective of individuals – and later in the book he emphasises individual change as a way of encouraging wider policy and societal change. He says we need to redesign our careers, viewing them as multi-staged, full of different types of transitions. We need to make sure we have more options at different points of transition, keep up our learning, self-audit for career risk in certain roles, invest in career change and rethink our ideas of career progress.

For employers, he says, it means gearing up to a multigenerational workforce and recognising the different skills older and younger people bring that enhance productivity. He argues that few employers are really grasping the agenda.

When it comes to ageism, Scott advises against any assumptions. Different people age in different ways, he says. He cites David Bowie who saw ageing as a series of progression towards the real you and says “ageing occurs continuously throughout our life”. The discussion should be framed in that way, he says, focusing on how we can age better at all stages, about what he calls the malleability of age. Everything is linked to the evergreen agenda, from climate change to benefits targeting and housing policy, he states. There is therefore something in the evergreen agenda for everyone. 

The book ends with a call to individuals to make changes now. That means focusing on having a longer life and more time and giving yourself more options in old age. And the epilogue returns to the beginning and the emphasis on more time, but also on social connection. It’s the emotional argument that we need to keep front of mind – more time with the people we love, he says. Scott writes: “Life goes on [after bereavement], but today life goes on for longer. It also goes on for longer for all those that we know. This creates new challenges. But it also creates new opportunities. More time to spend with those we love and more time to find those whom we cherish.”

*The Longevity Imperative by Andrew J Scott is published by Basic Books. 

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