The New Map of Life

Julia Randell-KhanJulia Randell-Khan
Director & Partnership Lead The Purpose Xchange
Julia, you support the interdisciplinary New Map of Life™ initiative at the Stanford Center on Longevity. What is this initiative about?

In 2018, the Stanford Center on Longevity launched an initiative we called The New Map of Life, believing that one of the most profound transformations of the human experience calls for equally momentous and creative changes in the ways we lead these longer lives. We make a clear distinction between aging, the biological process, and longevity, the measure of long life. The Center’s goal is not to advocate for longer life—a phenomenon that is well underway— rather, it is to identify ways to enhance the quality of those century-long lives. We envision a future in which all people, regardless of socio-economic status, can make the most of the advantages afforded by increased lifespan—resulting in lives infused at every stage with a sense of belonging, purpose, and worth.

We designed The New Map of Life to guide us from the world we inhabit now to a world in which future centenarians will thrive. It offers greater flexibility, additional options for learning and earning and financing longer lives, new models for delivering healthcare, technologies to extend health and functional independence, and pathways for intergenerational connection, so that people can be cared for, productive and socially engaged at every age and stage of their lives.

The new map of Life initiative was launched in 2018 with a convening of world-renowned experts that included academics from a wide range of disciplines, stakeholders and policy makers, industry executives, and thought leaders. For two days, we shared evidence, debated ideas, and began a conversation that alternated between wild optimism and clear-eyed constraints surrounding futures that last decades longer than any imagined by our great-grandparents. At the close of the meeting, the need for deeper understanding of the core aspects of life was clear. To explore new options for the life course and its many variables, we created a post-doctoral program and appointed an interdisciplinary team of talented fellows with expertise in nine domains we identified as core to longevity: early childhood, education, work, financial security, built environment, environment and climate, health and technology, lifestyle and fitness, and intergenerational relationships. We have since held a global New Map of life convening - the details are in this link and continue with our second cohort of post-doc fellows. Please take a look at the latest reports – link.

Retirement is an essential part of the concept. It recommends the abolition of a fixed/enforced retirement age and advises a "gliding path". What does this mean?

The traditional 3 stage life of education, work, retirement is no longer a model which supports longer lives.

The conventional model for retirement developed nearly a century ago selects a chronological age (eg 65), as an appropriate benchmark for retirement, regardless of a person’s health or abilities. It also assumes workers are financially prepared for retirements that may now span decades but research shows us that very few workers can fund a 30-year- retirement with a 40-year-career. And, it assumes that working and retirement are distinct stages of life, delineated abruptly when full time workers become full time retirees.

More companies are providing a “glide path” for people nearing retirement in place of the traditional cliff of a fixed retirement date, allowing them to reduce hours gradually and smooth the financial and emotional transition. Research indicates about 40 percent of older Americans would be willing to take a 10 percent reduction in hourly wage, and about 20 percent would be willing to take a 20 percent reduction in hourly wage, to work part- time or under a flexible schedule.

The implementation of the glide path could be coupled with corporate and public incentives to postpone retirement. Companies can walk away from concepts such as “retirement-age” or “retire on time” in favour of flexible options that meet the needs of employees and employers.

Another recommendation is to create incentives for retired workers to return to the labor market. What are the reasons for this recommendation and what kind of incentives are needed to get people back to work?

As noted above, very few workers can fund a 30 year retirement with a 40 year career. Opportunities to continue earning are critical for funding our longer lives.

Reversing course through “unretiring” allows older workers to continue earning and contributing on their own terms. As Prof Andrew Scott notes, “retirement as a mass phenomenon, where work comes to an abrupt end at the end of a specific age for everyone, is disappearing in the 21st century.”

For older workers, flexibility of hours is a major incentive for returning to work or staying in the labour force. Companies can allow older workers to step back from their day- to-day roles, while capitalizing on their emotional intelligence, experience, and knowledge transfer interest by offering opportunities for internal mentoring, informal learning, and team building programs. Within the work context, research suggests that intergenerational relationships are good for workplace performance. Among companies engaged in creativity-focused tasks (rather than routine tasks), age-diverse workforces are more innovative and productive than age- segregated ones. According to Prof Linda Friedman, “The neuroscience of wisdom shows that older people have not only unique abilities, but having made enough decisions in their lives to know what matters, they approach complex problems with a higher likelihood of success, because they have the skills to break big challenges into actionable parts, and the patience to keep at it when a person in their twenties would run screaming.”

your recommendations lead to more options for retirement. Traditional retirement planning has focused on income and financial security in retirement. Is there a need for a "new" retirement planning in light of the recommended options?

Over the course of 100-year lives, we can expect to extend our working lives to 60 years or more. To be sustainable, these extra decades in the workplace must offer greater flexibility through midlife internships and gap years, and other intervals that will space out earning and non-earning years to accommodate child-rearing, eldercare, health needs, upskilling, reskilling, and leisure. Retirement in its original form is no longer sustainable or realistic.

“New” retirement planning requires an understanding of how longer lifespan gives rise to a different mindset and approach to whole of life planning. For example, in the New Map of Life report we describe the Open Loop model which supports workers “looping” in and out of the workforce as personal life stages occur. For older workers, the Open Loop can be optimized to benefit individuals and the employers’ bottom line. It will require changes to individual behaviour, and current employer and tax policies that now drive older adults seeking a temporary respite from paid work into early or forced retirement, depriving individuals of income, employers of productivity, and governments of income and payroll taxes. For example, changes to Social Security policy would allow retirees who want to resume paid work to do so, without being penalized by reductions in benefits. In the US for example, allowing Medicare to cover the full employee health costs of workers over the age of 65 would remove a key barrier for employers concerned that retaining or hiring an older worker would increase their healthcare costs.

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