A Look at a Book is a new series I’m hosting to help keep you informed about the latest books having to do with adult development and middlescence. Why is this important? The books coming onto the market are a reflection of our struggle with the very idea of aging in America. A Look at a Book is an efficient, enjoyable way to stay informed.

“If we operate with a belief in long sweeps of time, we build cathedrals; if we operate from fiscal quarter to fiscal quarter, we build ugly shopping malls.”  

Stephen Nachmanovitch, Violinist

The 100-Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity is a wake-up call of sorts. It asks important questions about our expectations of work, ourselves, and our relationships as we live longer and want a more productive life than past generations of older people have been afforded. Written by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, both professors at London Business School, the pair bring their unique perspectives in psychology and economics to provide both analysis and solutions to navigating a 100-year life.

In line with my work on Middlescence, the authors note that these changes in life expectancy have created a “gigantic social experiment” – one with both enormous possibilities. The downfall of the book, though, comes in not acknowledging the pitfalls. There is an overriding assumption of a certain level of affluence, education, planning mentality and financial literacy that is surprising given the economic background of the authors. In this way, the book feels overly optimistic given the challenges of major institution – government, education, workplace –  in adapting to the demographic shifts.

Culturally we are moving away from the 3-stage life, one where age equals stage. The authors note that in this age-focused world experimentation and deviation from the expected path is risky. Simple linear progression – learning, earning, and then retirement – is valued.

“Freed from the straitjacket of the three-stage life, we see new stages already emerging that create opportunities to craft a life that balances tangible and intangible assets, depreciation and accumulation. In a long life, you have the potential to build a cathedral rather than a mall,” write the authors.

The 100-Year Life is thought-provoking. This evolving world view – one that is ageless and not ageist – cannot come soon enough.


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