Could the UK benefit economically from an ageing population?

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As we wait to see what will happen to the UK economy, it’s interesting to take a step back and reflect on some of the longer-term trends in our society that pre-dated the pandemic. One such is longevity: more children born in the UK are predicted to live into their nineties. How might this increase in life expectancy play out

“Even allowing for an impact of Covid-19 on long-run life expectancy, forecasts preparing for a 100-year life still offer a plausible prospect for children born today,” says Andrew Scott, Professor of Economics at London Business School. “Living into your nineties is definitely something to consider as part of your future planning.”

Professor Scott’s new book, The New Long Life: A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World, co-authored with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, considers how the challenges and opportunities of social and technological ingenuity might shape a new age of longer lives. Their previous book, The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, was an international bestseller. 

“According to the latest report from the ONS, a girl born in the UK in 2019 has a 20% chance of making it to 100 and the majority of children born this year will live into their nineties,” says Professor Scott. “Even allowing for worst-case scenarios from Covid-19, the situation still remains that there is an important mismatch between our current social practices and the length of life,” he says. “Covid-19 thankfully will not be the means by which that gap is closed. So the need for individuals, corporates and governments to adapt remains.”

Professor Scott was awarded £790,000 by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in September 2019 to identify more clearly how the ageing effect works, to quantify how important it is, and focus on policy measures that can help support it so that both as individuals and as a society we gain.

Watch Professor Scott’s recent webinar Leading through a pandemic: what will happen to the economy?

Principally, the research seeks to better understand why people are living longer than they once did, the value of healthy longevity, and how to maximise the economic gains so as to achieve the positive economic outcomes from longer healthier lives rather than negative economic consequences of an ageing society.

Professor Scott will work with a number of civil society organisations in the UK to help them in public campaigns to raise awareness of longevity issues and to help support as many people as possible to benefit from living longer. He will work with organisations such as the Centre for Ageing Better, The International Longevity Centre, and The Health Foundation, as well as a charity Professor Scott co-founded, The Longevity Forum.

Through publications and conferences these connections with organisations will provide natural platforms for the message to be heard by the wider public, individuals working in this area, and governments.

Professor Scott has launched a Global New Map of Life Project and also plans to establish a UK hub through which the research from this project will be disseminated in hosted events bringing together policymakers, corporates, and charitable institutions in the UK and linking this hub with a global research network.

Professor Scott says: “The ESRC research aims to address the whole life course and help people seize the opportunities longer lives present. The research covers all aspects of life, but employment, education, and health are central areas of focus. Policymakers must focus more on improving how their populations grow older.

“It is not just chronological age that matters, but also underlying health conditions. Heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes all increase the fatality risk, and their incidence tends to rise with age.

"Focusing on public-health measures and research that slow the rate of biological ageing is paramount if society is to exploit fully one of the greatest advances of the last century – the increase in healthy life expectancy. Such efforts will also be crucial to minimising the costs of future pandemics that will occur over the course of these long lives.”

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