‘We’re at the beginning of the second longevity revolution’

Andrew Scott on why humanity must pursue an ‘evergreen’ agenda to become a longevity society, rather than an aging one.

“The aging population.” Rarely is the term viewed in a positive light. Indeed, that humans can expect to live much longer today than in previous generations is largely seen as a societal burden than as an incredible achievement by humanity. A new book, authored by London Business School professor of economics Andrew J Scott, seeks to redress the balance by introducing the concept of the “evergreen” agenda, which calls for the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle to allow humans to thrive as average lifespans continue to increase.

In The Longevity Imperative, Scott argues that the fact that young people today can expect to live to a very old age is already a revolution, and represents a huge opportunity – although one that requires “radical change” if we are to capitalize on it. The change he proposes is to become evergreen – to construct a society that “prepares us for longer lives and ensures that the quality of life matches its newly found quantity.”

Longevity.Technology: Back in 2021, Scott made headlines with a paper (co-authored by David Sinclair and Martin Ellison) that calculated the economic value of increasing US life expectancy by ten years to be a stunning $367 trillion. With The Longevity Imperative, he builds on that work to propose how we can make the most of the precious gift of extra life that we have already been successful in creating for ourselves. We caught up with Scott to learn more about the themes he addresses in the book.

The Longevity Imperative was published in March, 2024.

This isn’t Scott’s first book on aging. In 2016, along with LBS colleague Lynda Gratton, he wrote the Amazon bestseller The 100-Year Life, which has since been published in 15 languages.

“I do sometimes wonder if the point of a long life is to write lots of books about longevity,” he quips. “But I think this might be the last one.”

Jokes aside, Scott believes that the issues around aging and longevity are as serious as those around climate change and AI.

“But aging never creates the same excitement as those other areas,” he says. “When we look at AI and climate change, we ask questions about how we need to adapt and adjust to them, but when it comes to the aging society, about as far as we go with adapting and adjusting is talking about adult diapers and care homes. It’s quite extraordinary.”

Longevity has a branding problem

When it comes to longevity, Scott believes the field has a “branding problem” – referring to the common misconception that the field is solely focused on lifespan extension.

“Of course, I think it’s right to question simply increasing life expectancy, which is really where we are today – an aging society,” he says. “An aging society means there’s been a change in the age structure in the population, but we haven’t changed how we age, so older people are less likely to be productive, more likely to be ill, and face a host of other challenges. To solve this, we need something a bit more profound than simply increasing state pensions – and that’s what I call the longevity society.”

But aging never creates the same excitement as those other areas
Prof. Andrew Scott is the world’s leading expert on the economics of longevity.

When planning The Longevity Imperative, Scott set about pulling together the many different “strands” that need to come together to achieve a longevity society. From aging biology and the economics of aging, through to the changes needed in human beliefs, culture and psychology, the book seeks to integrate many different perspectives and themes into a single coherent framework. Starting with recognizing that humanity has already achieved a longevity revolution.

“Global life expectancy is now greater than 70 – a majority of the young can expect to become old – and that’s amazing,” says Scott. “But it’s also a big shift. As we’re now living to 80 and beyond, we must start thinking about our life course differently, which opens up this need for radical change – to become evergreen. Given the probability of becoming old is now so high, we have to behave differently, we have to invest more in our future. And I think that’s why this is a new era for humanity.”

The next longevity revolution

According to Scott, the shift towards an evergreen agenda would be a second longevity revolution – one that is focused on changing how we age and ensuring we remain healthy, productive, and engaged for longer.

“There’s biology, and a lot of economics and social science in the book, but, above all, what I’m trying to do is to make it a human thing,” he says. “Because, for all the amazing progress in biology, this ultimately has to be about the human experience, and how do we as a society, adapt and adjust. Because if we are going to make biological progress, there’s a lot that needs to change on the social side too.”

Scott acknowledges that the change needed is profound, and that the world’s current situation is far from optimized from a longevity perspective.

“We underestimate the capacity of our later years, and so we under invest in our own future, we shut older people out from doing things, and we can’t afford to do that,” he says. “And that comes back to what we need to do – we just haven’t created the health institutions, the work institutions or the social institutions to make life good over a longer time period.”

“This is partly down to the millennia of human history, where we just haven’t bothered to create a lifestyle and social norms to support us when we’re 90 because it was such a rare event. But if it’s now going to be the majority, we need to do something.”

Are we on the right track?

A self-described optimist, Scott believes there are “definite signs of progress” when it comes to the shift towards becoming a longevity society.

“We’re not there at the moment, but this is a pretty big change in human history, and I think we’re only just beginning to wake up,” he says. “I think we’ve already been adjusting to these longer lives, but we still have far to go, of course.”

Among the many changes that Scott believes still need to happen, he calls for a “massive shift” towards preventative health rather than a continued focus on disease and treatment, as well as for governments to invest in the biology of aging to come up with cheap, targeted treatments that can help the majority. And he believes that governments are beginning to come around to the idea.

“I think governments are beginning to recognize a gradient, certainly on the economic side, and I’ve always thought that to really make this happen, we’ve got to get ministers of finance interested,” says Scott. “It’s one of the reasons I wrote the book – because once governments start to see that health matters in an aging population for the GDP, suddenly things change.”

Finally, when it comes to advice for people looking to change how they age and become part of the longevity society, Scott leaves us with two points to consider.

“First, if you’re going to change how you age, that means you have to behave differently from your parents and grandparents, and I think it’s useful to recognize that and think about how you might do that,” he says. “And then I go back to the longevity imperative, which is a very simple syllogism: you are now very likely to become very old. We fear getting old, we fear outliving our health, our wealth, our finances, our skills, and our relationships. So, what can you do today to avoid that happening?”

Photos courtesy of Andrew Scott