Nowadays, however, that great landmark is far more common – and official figures last week showed how much more. In its “estimates for the very old”, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported there were now 14,570 “centenarians” living in the UK – 65% more than a decade ago – and 850 aged 105 and over.
These figures are only set to rise – the centenarians are now followed by 556,270 whippersnappers in the 90-plus age group, the ONS said.
The statistics tell the story of our improving life chances during the 20th and now 21st centuries, our better diet and medical provision, our lower child mortality and our shift away from tough lives of manual labour that would see many survive just a few short years after stopping work.
It also tells the story of historic events, most strikingly the First World War which still echoes a century later in the statistically significant dip among the numbers of very old aged born in those years. Birth rates fell as there were simply fewer potential fathers about.
The higher numbers of very old people is a cause for celebration, but all those extra years of life need to be paid for. It is realistic to say that many people will be as long retired as they were working.
Coping with that, as individuals and a society, will not be easy and is likely to require changes to what we consider as work and retirement. It is a subject explored in a new book The 100-Year Life, by professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.
Along with laying out the scale of the longevity challenge, Gratton and Scott describe how we will have to move from a “three stage life”, of education, career and then retirement, to a “multi-stage life” during which there will be different careers, different levels of earning and a mix of part-time and full-time work, including into the years that we now consider to be strictly for retirement.
There may need to be periods of retraining that must be funded, meaning less to live on in the short term in order to prepare for a longer and more varied working life in the future.
How this future plays out is far from certain - as the book says, “we can’t rely on the role models of the past” – but you can be sure that individuals will have greater responsibility to pay for their longer life. Making preparations in advance will be key, and the earlier the better.
Ed joined Fidelity in 2016 following a 13-year career in newspaper journalism, most recently as investment editor at The Daily Telegraph. He was previously news editor and personal finance editor for Thisismoney.co.uk, the money channel for Mail Online and has contributed articles to the Daily Mail.
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