The 100-Year Life (2016)

The basic argument of The 100-Year Life, by psychologist Lynda Gratton and economist Andrew Scott, is that not enough is being done to adapt to increasing longevity. After a quite interesting chapter on how drastically longevity has changed (the 1900 US expectancy was under 50!), the book sketches out in some detail archetypes from the baby boomer, gen X, and millennial generations, imagining how their lives might play out. As is probably obvious, the younger generations face increasingly insurmountable difficulties if they try to stick to the typical education/single career/retirement (three-stage life) that worked very well for the baby boomers, who could pick any career, stick to it, invest in virtually anything, and come out with a house, savings, and an irritating sense that they had somehow been rewarded for their wisdom and moral virtue.

That said, the section on “juvenescence,” whereby youthful features, behaviours, and even looks are persisting longer and longer in adults, was somewhat illuminating. This phenomenon is nothing new—it was also observed (in comparison with fin-de-siècle Vienna) by Stefan Zweig in his 1942 memoir, but here it gets a more scientific treatment. The description of how relationships will change, and how labour, childcare, and earnings may alternate between men and women was also interesting and probably true.

The problem with the book is that it feels like it is written either to guide public policy or to explain to the older generations why the younger generations are behaving differently and making different choices than they did, without giving much practical advice to the younger generations about what to do, besides platitudes about remaining flexible, gaining new skills, and being prepared for career changes—all of which, as the book observes, the younger generation are already doing. Obviously there’s huge uncertainty about what will happen in the coming decades, so it would be unfair to expect the book to provide particularly concrete guidance, but I think that much of what’s written here is probably already obvious to millennials. It might have some explanatory power for the older generations bewildered by the youth’s postponement of traditional milestones, however, as it argues that far from being irresponsible idlers, millennials are quite conservative planners, which I think is right.

The book is also quite repetitive—as I was actually told by the person who recommended it to me—and probably just reading a summary would have been enough, but I had hoped that it would provide some inspiration or hope in a time of my own personal uncertainty about life choices. The idea is interesting, and the book does maintain a hopeful tone, but for me it remained more a description of the lack of societal adaptation to changing conditions than a guide for how to navigate the new uncertainties.

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