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6 Innovations to Enhance Our Longer Lives

Encore.org's Marc Freedman on how to get the most from longevity


“As thousands of baby boomers each day surge into their 60s and 70s, it’s time to focus on enriching lives, not just lengthening them; on providing purpose and productivity, not just perpetuity,” Encore.org founder Marc Freedman exhorts us in a must-read column for The Wall Street Journal published this week.

Freedman, author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, says it’s time to marshal our imagination and ingenuity to devise new strategies “for enhancing the whole range of  experiences in later life, including education, faith, housing, work, finance and community.” (Note: Encore.org is a Next Avenue content partner.)

Here’s a brief version of Freedman’s six big ideas for making our longer lives worth living:

1. Give This Chapter of Life a Name

Giving a coherent identity to the chapter of life that occurs between roughly ages 55 and 75 creates a framework for constructing the pathways, products and policies required to make the most of this period.

Why is it that we load up all of our higher education in life's first two dozen years?

— Marc Freedman

2. Promote a Midlife Break

To make the transition as easy as possible, we should encourage people in this life phase to take a gap year or at least a few bridge months to figure out their next steps.

3. Design College Programs for Life’s Second Half

Create easily accessible and affordable programs to help people retool to continue to earn an income, maintain a sense of engagement and adapt to fresh challenges.  “Why is it that we load up on all our higher education and higher- education spending in life’s first two dozen years, when individuals have so many decades stretching out in front of them?” Freedman asks. In March, as Next Avenue wrote, Encore.org brought together two dozen leaders from across higher education to discuss democratizing and expanding their offerings for individuals moving beyond midlife.

4. Find the Money for These Extra Years

Freedman says we need to look for creative ways to finance what he calls “the bonus years” — gifts of longevity our parents and grandparents did not expect to have. Among the most intriguing ideas Freedman promotes: allowing people to take one year of early Social Security to finance the cost of retooling for their next career in exchange for working an “actuarially adjusted period later” before receiving full benefits.

5. Create Multigenerational Housing Opportunities

Freedman wants to see housing strategies, such as Bridge Meadows in Portland, Ore., that provide engagement for older residents and support for younger residents.

6. Spark Innovation to Improve the Bonus Years

Most longevity innovations have been small in scale, says Freedman. He’d like to see an X Prize-type of award for “the innovation that does the most to increase the productivity and contribution of older people to society.”

The column is full of great ideas, only some of which are summarized here.  Which seem most promising to you and how would you make longer lives worth living?

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