According to Stanford Professor Laura L. Carstensen, the 20th century bequeathed us a fabulous gift: an average of 30 more years of life! Life expectancy at birth is now 78, whereas in the early 1900s it was only about 50. Today there are more than 70,000 centenarians in the U.S., roughly four times the number there were just ten years ago. We need to think about those extra decades, and how we want to spend them (and how we plan to afford them).
In Carstensen’s new book, A Long Bright Future,, she outlines five myths about long life that we should not believe:
- The “Misery Myth” that older people are sad and lonely: usually it is just the opposite.
- The ”DNA is Destiny Myth” that your whole fate is foretold in your genes: actually your DNA is usually only a small piece of the puzzle.
- The “Work Hard, Retire Harder Myth” that we should rush to exit the workforce: instead, we should spread out our work and plan to stay active and continue to earn money in our extra “gift” years.
- The “Scarcity Myth” that older people are a drain on the world’s resources: in fact, seniors have a lot to contribute.
- The “We Age Alone Myth” that how we fare in old age is entirely an individual matter, and not a function of society.
Carstensen’s book contains a lot of interesting points, but for us the most important take-away is that most likely we will live many more years than our current culture anticipates. Carstensen says that we should be re-writing the social script that assumes we will retire at 65 and be dead by 70. Instead we need to spread out our life so that we can live a full life -- with work, caregiving, and fun – for several more decades.