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Issue #27: The Issue with Age(ing)

Last Friday, as another birthday loomed on the horizon and I started pondering the (potentially rather morbid) subject of my own mortality, I met John (one of the guiding lights on my S&P journey) for a coffee. John mentioned current research being carried out by London Business School which is looking at adaptation challenges which will arise if and when life expectancy extends to 100 years.

"If we are all going to live to be 100, does this mean that adulthood could start at 30, rather than at 18? Should we all be retiring at 80 instead of 60?" he pondered. I was intrigued - I had never contemplated the notion that I may just be out of my "teens" (God, forbid) and that my professional life might peak at 60 rather than 40.

However, after a bit of research, it turns out I am not the only one looking to live forever. Billions of dollars are being poured into Silicon Valley companies like Google-backed Calico and Human Longevity Inc. to help them find the secret to a long healthy life and develop age-defying drugs.

In this issue we explore how living longer might redefine the different phases in our lives, what the 'new normal' could look like for professional women and what the future holds for an ageing population.

Suit & Pie was also recently featured on the excellent Editorial Intelligence Knowledge Dashboard with our recommendations on what to hear, watch and read.

Check us out - happy reading!
 
x  Dorian Gray (oops... I meant foong)
 on twitter 
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Issue #28 of Suit & Pie is out on the 5th of February. Subscribe here to receive it straight to your inbox and catch up on past issues in our archive. You can also read the Suit & Pie story here courtesy of womanthology.co.uk.
 
I'm Gonna Live Forever
Average life expectancy in the UK is currently 81 years (79.5 for males, 82.5 for females) (Britain's oldest person, Ethel Lang, recently passed away aged 114). The United Nations predicts that average life expectancy will be 101 in the developed world in 2300, although research into diet, drugs and genetic therapy may accelerate this timetable and enable us all to live to 1,000 according to Aubrey de Grey!
Age Ain't Nothing but a Number
If we are all now living longer, what will the different phases in our lives look like? We revisit the definitions of various life stages - then do some speculating... 



Childhood: Defined as the age spanning from birth to adolescence (typically ages 0 to 12), it encompasses toddlerhood (learning to walk), early childhood (play age) and middle childhood (school age).

Adolescence: The transitional stage of physical and psychological human development that generally occurs between puberty and adulthood (usually ages 12 to 18). Closely associated with being a 'teen', its cultural purpose is to prepare children for adult roles and typically involves education, training, employment, unemployment (!) and transitions in living circumstances.

Young Adulthood: Legal adulthood (as opposed to biological adulthood - which is when one reaches sexual maturity) is achieved when an individual assumes control over their person, actions and decisions. It is often associated with being given certain rights - to vote, to drink (alcohol), to drive, to get married, to gamble, to run for President etc.

Middle Age: Usually around the third quarter of the average life span (typically ages 40 to 60) and characterised by visible signs of ageing (loss of skin elasticity, graying), a decrease in physical fitness, strength and flexibility, and declining fertility rates (all good news then!).

Old Age: "The later part of life... usually with reference to deterioration" (per the Oxford Dictionary). Defined in the developing world not by years, but by new roles, loss of previous roles or inability to make an active contribution to society. Most Western countries set their retirement age at 60 to 65.
The New Normal
If we are all now living to the ripe old age of 100, based on my incredible crystal ball-gazing skills (and no scientific research whatsoever), the different phases in our lives should look a little bit more like this:



Instead of men and women reaching their professional peak in their 40s as is currently the case, we would see 'older' individuals working well into their 70s and hitting their professional peak in their 50s and 60s instead.

This would mean that women like Hillary Clinton and Dame Tessa Jowell, currently being criticised for being too old to run for President of the USA and Mayor of London respectively, would just be hitting their political stride. Both women are 67.

Hopefully this will go some way towards erasing the stigma currently associated with being both old and a woman (in Rush Limbaugh's words during Clinton's last campaign "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?").

Our cultural obsession with looks has created a real double standard - older men are allowed on TV, they look distinguished and experienced, whereas older women are all but invisible, they cannot show any signs of ageing and are often portrayed as incapable (old biddy needing help crossing the road etc).

As Jonathan Freedland put it - "If Clinton wins, 'old woman' will no longer be an insult: it will describe the most powerful person on the planet" - and if we're all living longer, maybe we could even drop the word "old"!
Back to the (old) future
Increased longevity will result in a much higher average age and an older population in the future. What will life look like then? Here are some of our favourite predictions:

On relationships: Age differences of up to 30 or 40 years between partners could become common place, although research suggests that older men currently seek out younger partners for their looks and fertility. In the future, women will look less 'aged' as they will remain healthy for longer and it will be easier for older women to have children using new fertility technologies.

On family: There may be more marriages and re-marriages. The  7 year itch may turn into the 70 year itch! Siblings may be born not just years but decades apart. Bearing and raising children will no longer be an all-consuming life event. Life may be structured around friendship rather than family.

On work: You may find you can have two or three full careers over a lifetime, with flexible working and part time working becoming more prevalent. 

On the economy: Studies have shown that increased healthy life expectancy results in increases in average income per capita. Encouraging life-long learning and delaying retirement age will help ensure that an ageing but still active population is not a burden but an asset. 

On consumerism: Warm weather locations are likely to become more popular as the population gets older, with less of an exodus toward the cities. Theatregoing and opera may enjoy a comeback. Consumerism may decline as older people will be less materialistic. 

Even if we aren't quite at a 100 year life expectancy yet, Laura Carstensen suggests we should adopt a Socioemotional Selectivity approach - i.e. actively anticipating not to live to 80 but to 150. By thinking this way, people tend to make long term rather than short term behavioural decisions, look and feel younger for longer, remain productive for longer and minimise financial risk. Perfect!
Socks & crumbs (or the bit at the bottom)
Heard it through the (corporate) grapevine...

- From now until the end of February, Selfridges will be hosting "Bright Old Things" a showcase of 14 fashion creatives aged late-40s to mid-80s who have recently changed profession, proving that it's never too late to try something new.



Their work will be showcased in the store's window scenes and you can buy a selection of their pieces online

- On 12 February, Bright Old Thing Sue Kreitzman and performance artist Caroline Smith will also host a talk show at the Everyman Cinema in Selfridges for Louche Women. Email BOT@selfridges.co.uk to book your ticket.
This week I will be...

- looking forward to my impending immersive theatrical experience, Alice's Adventures Underground, at the Vaults (3 years in the making!)



- booking myself a seat at accomplished chef Judy Joo's new Korean street food joint, Jinjuu

- following Stylist's top 10 funniest fictional twitter accounts #FirstWorldProblems (although not sure I could hack the bongs @big_ben_clock)

- (re)considering my position on the need for female quotas in the City following the great article in the FT's Weekend magazine
It's a man's world - maybe we aren't so different after all 
A UN Barbershop
 
Last week, Iceland and Suriname hosted the world's first "Barbershop Conference" at the UN headquarters in New York.

The two day conference was the first meeting of its kind bringing together heads of state, male leaders and activists to share ideas and devise strategies to advance gender equality and end violence against women.

An offshoot of the HeforShe campaign launched by Emma Watson in September, the conference attracted criticism for having an all-male invite list. By filling the space with at least 70% men, the sponsors hoped the conference would spark the kind of candid and frank discussion men might traditionally have in a locker room or barbershop.



Initial reports suggest that the conference was a success, with Iceland's Foreign Minister Funnar Bragi Sveinsson confirming the openness of the participants and the impassioned comments coming from men who have daughters.

The youngest speaker was Max Bryant, a 13 year old boy from New Jersey who raised funds to send 18 girls to school for a year. "I'm not here because I feel sorry for girls who can't go to school. I think it's unfair that people can be denied education because they have an additional X chromosome," he said.

In Swedish Health Minister Gabriel Wikstrom's words, referring to Malala Yousafzai, "If a 15 year old schoolgirl could speak out about simple equality, knowing the risks, then gentlemen, perhaps we should really man up."
Mr Smith's Corner
 
Mr Smith gives us his thoughts for the week.

Highlights: I really like this edition Miss F, not least as you have redefined me from 'Middle Aged' to 'Young Adult' at the stroke of a pen - you should become a motivational speaker! A very welcome boost in a dark and chilly January. To be fair Mrs S agrees I still have some growing up to do as when I do the shopping the choice of breakfast cereals is still determined by the best free toy inside... 



Lowlights: Annual work ski trip is almost upon us! Hoping this year I will not be winning the 'person who completed most turns whilst trying to get down the mountain' gong. Slight administrative issue as all my ski kit seems to have disappeared on the house move... I can see the merit in box labeling now.

Lesson learnt: Well if we are going to be living and working longer, several careers rather than one etc, then I will definitely have to embrace technological change a bit quicker... 

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