We are living ever longer. This is leading to new options for structuring not only our old age but our entire lives. In the research project "How we will live tomorrow", the think tank W.I.R.E. and Swiss Life illustrate 44 alternative models for a longer self-determined life.
The current debate about ageing often dismisses the fact that longevity alters our entire lives, rather than simply serving to extend the final stages of life. Instead, the time gained requires us to replan our lives from scratch. Advances in medicine, the entry of smart devices into our daily lives and a loosening of traditional values are opening up fundamentally new ways of structuring our lives as regards family, work, home, health and pensions.
Traditional life models reaching their limits
Despite a significant increase in life expectancy, the life model prevailing today is largely the same as that of our grandparents: Education is followed by a career, family and retirement. Although we are not very active in the final stage of life despite remaining healthy for longer, we are cramming additional activities into the middle years of life owing to changed roles in the family and at work and a growing desire for self-actualisation outside our careers. We therefore need to rethink the life of tomorrow today in order to spread and make better use of the potential of living longer.
Separating children and careers – rethinking the multi-generational household
The extra time means we can separate having children from our careers, for instance, and not become parents until the second half of our lives. We can learn several professions and engage in various activities spread out throughout our long lives – while the grandparents in multi-generational households help to mind the children. Think tank W.I.R.E. and Swiss Life present 44 such alternative life models for discussion in the book entitled "How we will live tomorrow", newly published by NZZ Libro.
More individual responsibility: What future is desirable?
That there is a need to act can be seen from the representative survey of the population published in the book in which the life scenarios are assessed by the Swiss public. There is a strikingly high discrepancy between the desirability and feasibility of the life models. For example, very late parenthood is only considered desirable and realistic by four percent of those surveyed. However, the younger generation in particular sees this as a very likely scenario.
More than half of those surveyed would like to take time off regularly, but only 41 percent consider this scenario to be realistic.
The population wishes to see flexible working structures
Scenarios envisaging more flexibility with regard to working structures are particularly popular among the population but still felt to be a long way off. While more than half of those surveyed would like to take time off regularly, only 41 percent consider this scenario to be realistic. The scenario of a relationship with artificial intelligence meets with little enthusiasm, as only eight percent of those surveyed are in favour of this idea. A blurring of the line between human and machine and an excessive reliance on technology trigger anxiety but are at the same time found by almost half of those surveyed to provide a realistic vision for the future.
The onus is on businesses and government
The opportunities of living longer are also placing demands on businesses and governments. More flexible work models and education concepts are called for, for instance by connecting people with similar or complementary work profiles via digital matching platforms. This will make job sharing easier and facilitate access to specific expertise with limited levels of employment. Also conceivable are educational subscriptions at universities and universities of applied science to allow lifelong learning with regular training and development both within and outside the employee's area of activity and funded through the employee's own pension assets.
New forms of housing and construction
It is also necessary to adjust the infrastructure to new and more complex family structures, for instance by promoting new forms of housing and construction that meet the changed circumstances of patchwork families and multi-generational households and allow for the shared and flexible use of spaces. Finally, questions about which social guidelines will accompany us in the future and how pensions can be redefined are of central importance.
More self-determination, more individual responsibility
The dialogue about the life models of tomorrow needs to be conducted today. The necessity is growing for each individual to address the new options for shaping our lives. Markus Leibundgut, CEO Swiss Life Switzerland, agrees: “If we want to live tomorrow not only longer but also as we please, with self-determination, we need to start thinking today about our life to come.”