Longevity literacy: the only way to thrive in a 100-year life

4 minute read
As people live longer in nearly every country around the world, individuals need to have purpose throughout their lives, says the World Economic Forum. Lifelong learning is one way to achieve this
Sian Harrington

Longevity literacy lifelong learning illustration

Global average life expectancy will reach about 81 years by 2100, following an increase from 46 to 73 between 1950 and 2019, according to the United Nations. As a result, business leaders, individuals and governments need to reimagine how they view ageing and retirement.

To succeed and thrive in a 100-year life, individuals need more than financial literacy, says the World Economic Forum. They need longevity literacy. Longevity literacy empowers individuals to live a healthy and sustainable life built on three pillars: quality of life, purpose and financial resilience.

To discover how much people understand today’s changing demographics and retirement needs, the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Mercer, a business of Marsh McLennan, ran a Longevity Literacy Pulse Poll, the results of which are outlined in a report Living Longer, Better: Understanding Longevity Literacy. The report offers recommendations for governments and employers to ensure they are adequately supporting people in multiple stages of work and retirement.


Aside from the traditional areas of finance and health, a critical element of longevity literacy is having purpose throughout our lives. Whether this is achieved by focusing on family, career, hobbies or a new skill, what is vital is that people stay engaged and create positive and supportive networks and communities around them, says the report.

“Sustaining community connections and engaging in lifelong learning will help people advance their skills while they are working, but it is also a beneficial way to stay engaged and be part of a community in later life,” the authors note.

A sense of purpose also helps address the increasingly modern crisis of loneliness. When pulse poll respondents were asked about their fears for a longer life, “being alone” was a recurring theme for many. While 80% of participants said they have a good circle of friends that they can rely on, 40% said they feel isolated and 30% feared they will be lonely later in life. Women and respondents under the age of 40 are more affected by loneliness.

The World Economic Forum has previously reported loneliness as a public health crisis. Loneliness takes a serious toll on older adults’ mental and physical wellbeing – the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.


Respondents to the poll were generally happy to reskill or retrain, something that will be crucial as people work longer. Younger people were more positive about reskilling along with women and Europeans, compared to their North American and UK counterparts. However, time and cost was seen as a barrier.

  • 93% of under 40s are happy to reskill compared to 84% of over 40s
  • 90% of women are happy to reskill compared to 85% of men
  • 50% of under 40s are concerned about costs
  • 45% of women are concerned about costs compared to 35% of men

“Upskilling and reskilling employees opens up career development and job mobility opportunities to existing workers. At a time of widespread labour shortages, this is one of the best ways that employers can fill any skills gaps to help future-proof their organisation, and potentially save on recruitment and/or redundancy costs at the same time,” says the report.


There is a significant disconnect between what people ideally want and what may happen in reality. More than four in 10 (44%) of under 40s want to retire by 60. The report says that ceasing to work at such early ages will exacerbate the gap in savings and target retirement income. It could also be detrimental at a macroeconomic level due to lowering labour participation rates.

However, more than 40% of the respondents would like to continue working beyond the age of 65. Some of the more aged societies such as Japan, Singapore and Korea enjoy a higher labour participation rate from the 65-plus population, at close to 30%, while this is in the low single digits in many countries in Europe such as Spain and France.

The report offers recommendations for employers to ensure they are adequately supporting people in multiple stages of work and retirement.

“Employers are thinking more about the current age distributions within the areas of talent needed to operate their organisations and how to influence the trajectory of these distributions,” says Rich Nuzum, executive director, investments & global chief investment strategist at Mercer. “To leverage longevity and fight the war for talent effectively, moving from individual roles to team-based roles can help employers take full advantage of the diverse strengths of teams that comprise a combination of older and younger workers.”

How employers can support people

  • Implement programmes offering support such as carers’ leave, information and advice for those who have caregiver responsibilities
  • Understand what impact the company’s retirement plan design has on the trajectory of retirement-readiness and labour flow – check if people can actually afford to retire
  • Provide flex-work programmes for caregivers, such as job-shares; allow part-time workers to contribute to defined contribution plans; provide training programmes for workforce re-entry, similar to those for early-career employees
  • Implement and review financial wellbeing programmes to:
    • Cover specific life-stage needs that account for gender, cultural and ethnicity differences
    • Consider personalised models to show the impact of different working arrangements and retirement ages on pay and pension
    • Cater to low-income earners who are likely to need the most support saving and planning for retirement.

Increasing longevity globally will require new innovations and solutions to address how people can stay financially resilient in a retirement that may be 20 years longer than their grandparents. Failing to adopt a multistakeholder approach towards longevity will result in a significant portion of people retiring into poverty, conclude the authors.

Published 21 June 2023
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