A few years ago, my friend Rajan Raju made the astonishing assertion that we will all live to be 125. I discussed it with him, it seemed to make a little if not total sense. But I didn’t think much about it.

Over the last 3 years, this conversation has come back to me a lot. I am now a firm believer in the idea of a 100 year life.

(Note: Before some activists troll me as to why this is an elite view, I am neither commenting on the millions people still in poverty, or dying in childbirth, nor on the chances of cancer or Alzheimer’s of a host of lifestyle diseases taking any of us sooner. I am talking about the average life span of the perhaps the top quarter of the world’s population.)

Even assuming that 125 years is a stretch, it is clear that the 100 year life is not an exaggeration, for many people on the planet. Let me explain.

We know for a fact that each generation of humans will live much longer than their parents’ generations.

Look at your own life for a simple confirmation. If you are in mid-life, say 45-55, your parents are probably alive and well in their late 70s or 80s, with a few years still to go. You will likely live as a generation into your 90s. And your children, those who are in their 20s today, will live into their 100s.

Look at it another way. Today advances in medical science has made practically every body part replaceable. Hip fractures to old people were a death sentence 2-3 decades ago. Now people get a new hip and start walking in a week. Knees, hearts, eyes, livers, kidneys … are all replaceable by a combination of machines and natural substitutes.

My own hearing is a classic example. I have a genetic and progressive hearing loss. I had surgery when I was a kid, and have worn hearing aids for nearly 20 years. Every 3 years, in a Mooresian progression, the hearings aids I wear get smaller, more powerful and more sensitive. I can get a cochlear implant done today. But by waiting for say, a decade, I can get one that likely has 256 channels, and intelligently and automatically adjusts to my situation. In contrast, today’s are 32 channels and those of a decade ago, around 4 or 8, and have frequency boosters that are fixed for ever.

If I accept the 100 year life as a very likely possibility, the corollary is that I need to ponder about its consequent implications on our lives.

The truth is that, as a species, we are unprepared for the 100 year lives most of us who are alive now will lead. Unprepared on multiple fronts – in terms of finances, career and work, interests and learnings, finding purpose. Or even the number and nature of spousal relationships we will have in the course of a lifetime.

The phenomenon of the 100 year life has been the subject of research and books. One of the insightful studies is a recent book written by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. Sub-titled ‘Living and working in an Age of Longevity’, the book explores and predicts a ‘fundamental redesign of life’.

Simon Kuper of the FT has superbly summarised its key findings here. We currently live a 3 stage life: Education, Career, Retirement. In a linear fashion.

{Note: In some way, this is nothing new. It is close to Hindu philosophy’s 4 ashramas or stages of life: Brahmacharya / student, Grihastha / householder, Vanaprastha / retired and Sannyasa / renunciation. And Shakespeare’s famous re-phrasing of the medieval philosophy of the 7 ages of man: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and old age.}

What the book says is that 2 new stages (teenagers, retirees) can already be perceived more strongly. Moreover, the stages are extending into each other, and appearing and re-appearing out-of-sequence.

The book will no doubt be the foundation of a lot of research into this matter. What seems obvious is that as a species, we are sleepwalking through this profound and fundamental change, that will affect us more than any single phenomenon we encounter in life. Because the changes are deep and creep upon us slowly, it does not allow us the luxury of time and space to reflect on the changes, prepare for them and adapt to it.

There are 3 big areas we need to consider as we ponder this 100 year life. Firstly, what does it do to the stages in which we live it (covered well by Gratton/Scott). Secondly, what does it mean for the relationships, especially spousal, in our life? And thirdly, what does it mean for our purpose in life?

In my next post, I want to focus on the second aspect of this, and why I feel institutions like marriage will change fundamentally. My friend Peng Ong is very keen to discuss the implications of this on the third question and I will lean on him to help me do that.

If you can’t wait, get your hands on the 100 year life book or visit the site.

If you have a more philosophical bent of mind, don’t worry, you still have at least 50 years to think about this.

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