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How the Longevity Project Is Reimagining Our Longer Lives

This new initiative just polled Americans to see what they think is needed

By Holly Lawrence

As life expectancies are growing and the 100-year-life is becoming more common, how can Americans, the U.S. government and employers best prepare for the challenges and opportunities of longevity? Meet the Longevity Project, the new initiative designed to come up with some answers.

Older adults walking together in the sun
Credit: Adobe Stock

The Longevity Project, developed in collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity (its lead content creator), is generating research and engaging in public conversation on the many impacts of longer lives. It just released a poll of 2,200 adults, conducted by Morning Consult, to see what Americans think needs to change to support increasing longevity.

“Longevity is, in many ways, one of the greatest achievements of the last century and a half — lifespan has almost doubled in that time in the U.S.,” says Ken Stern, chair of the Longevity Project and the former CEO of National Public Radio. “But in many ways, we still organize our institutions as if this great advance in longevity had never occurred.”

What Americans Said in the Longevity Project Poll

Based on the Longevity Project’s poll, the public agrees, especially regarding both the nation’s retirement financing system and America’s employers. A full 54% of respondents supported personal retirement savings plans offered by the government. And 76% called age diversity an important consideration for employers, but only 12% of employed respondents said their employers are actively recruiting older workers.

Only 13% of employed Longevity Project poll respondents said their companies are implementing multi-generational work groups.

The poll also found that 53% of respondents view longer life as a net positive for the U.S. economy.

When announcing the Longevity Project, Stanford Center on Longevity founder Laura Carstensen (a Next Avenue 2015 Influencer in Aging), said: "With Americans living longer and healthier, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine healthy, successful century long lives, but we can't achieve what we can't imagine, and we are pleased to help launch this initiative to foster public understanding and engagement on longevity."

The Longevity Project, Stern said, “flows from my conversations with Stanford Center on Longevity about a shared interest in engaging the public — businesses, government, media and others — on these important topics.”

Stanford's New Map of Life Project

The Longevity Project’s coalition also includes the Urban Institute think tank, the National Academy of Medicine, and companies such as Principal Financial Group, Wells Fargo and Instructure. The initiative dovetails with Stanford Center on Longevity’s five-year project, New Map of Life, which is “a rethink of how we organize civil society in light of greater longevity,” said Stern.

The Longevity Project’s website serves as the hub for the public to stay informed and become engaged in the initiative. Americans will weigh in through a series of Longevity Project polls and social media.

Stern said two findings  jumped out at him from the recent Longevity Project poll.

The first was how much Americans value older workers. Stern noted that age diversity in the workplace outpolled race, gender and LGBTQ as an important consideration for employers. Yet only 13% of employed respondents said their companies are implementing multi-generational work groups; just 17% said they’re providing physical accommodations for older workers and a mere 24% said the employers provided training to stay current on new technologies.

“The public seems to understand the importance of older workers to the economy, but companies are trailing,” said Stern.


What Younger People Said About Family Support

The second poll finding that intrigued Stern: how millennials and Gen Z view family support.

“Generation Z is skeptical about the adequacy of Social Security and corporate pension plans to financing their longer life. Rather, among Generation Z adults, one in five are counting on financial support from family if, or when, they decide to retireahead of other options like pension plans from an employer, traditional or Roth IRAs and annuities,” said Stern.

But, he added, young Americans polled also talked about their own shared responsibility for family members. “Younger cohorts are nearly twice as likely [as older ones] to believe that at sixty-five they will be raising a family or helping their children raise their families,” Stern said.

In the next series of Longevity Project polls, he noted, “We’re going to look more deeply at financing longer life, lifelong learning and the future of work. I think the topic of financing longer life is particularly important. We are in a time of transition on how we fund retirement in this country and people feel very uncertain about this transition.”

The 2 Upcoming Longevity Project Conferences

Two Longevity Project conferences at Stanford in June may offer revealing and insightful ideas about the implications of longevity.

One conference will be The Century Summit, on June 24, bringing together business, media, policy and research leaders. The other will be The Longevity Next Conference, on June 25, convening young leaders to discuss the implications of the longer life for their generations.

“I’m particularly excited about Longevity Next, which is the first conference to look at the topic of longevity specifically for younger generations,” said Stern. “How will millennials and Generation Z engage with a longer life? How will they finance a longer life? How do you work over a sixty-year career? What are issues surrounding inequality and longevity? And how do we think about the intersection of sustainability and longevity?”

This fall, the Longevity Project will launch a podcast called “Life At.”

Holly Lawrence is a freelance writer on well-being and issues affecting older adults. Connect on LinkedIn. Read More
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