While it’s no secret that people are living longer and retiring earlier, the economic and social trends associated with this phenomena are changing the way older Americans prepare for their “bonus years” and reinvent themselves, according to a globally known demographer set to speak in Rohnert Park on Feb. 24.
Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Emeryville-based Age Wave, a visionary research and consulting firm focusing on issues relating to the maturing marketplace and the profound business, social, health care, financial, workforce and cultural implications created by a rapidly aging population. He is the keynote speaker at the 23rd annual SSU Economic Outlook Conference to be held from 7:30 to 11:45 a.m. at Sonoma State University’s Student Center Ballroom, located at 1801 E. Cotati Ave. The theme of this year’s conference is “Economic Wave, Age Wave.”
Retirement is changing and being driven by three dynamic forces: Rising longevity, moving toward a new work/life balance, and redefining a life purpose. “We’re in the midst of an incredible longevity revolution. More than half of the men and women who ever lived past the age of 65 in the entire history of the world are alive today. So the question is, what does this mean when it comes to retirement?”
He said old age isn’t what — or where — it used to be. For 99 percent of the time humans have walked the earth, the average life expectancy was 18 years. People died young of acute infections, accidents, trauma or childbirth before they were old enough to have bodies with age-related problems such as heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s.
Fast forward to the year 1000. The life expectancy at birth over the past millennia has increased dramatically, with most of the change coming since 1900. On the first day of the 20th century the average person could expect to live about 47 years, but on the last day of 2000 the average person’s life expectancy was up to about 78 years — a 30-year increase. So, in Dychtwald’s words, “What do we do with this longevity bonus?”
Until recently, most people lived a linear life plan with three key components, including 18-20 years devoted to education, about 35 years for a career and family building, followed by approximately 10 years for leisure in retirement. “The biggest change has come at the end of this traditional linear plan. With people living up to three decades longer, no one wants more longevity just to be older longer. Rather, people want to be younger longer. They want the freedom to live life on their terms.”
A new cyclic life plan is emerging, according to Dychtwald. “People today are using their longevity bonus throughout their life cycle as part of their ongoing work/life balance without waiting until their senior years. They may go back to school, fall in love again, start new careers or take time out to kick back, explore the world and take up new challenges several times during their lives.”
He says he’s a big fan of Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who created the hierarchy of human needs in 1943. The original hierarchy started with basic physical needs at the bottom moving up to security and safety, love and belonging, self esteem and finally self-actualization (becoming everything you are possible of becoming) at the top of the pyramid.
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