Many of us think of life as being made up of three distinct stages – education, career and retirement. But in a changing world where people are living ever longer lives, this traditional idea is becoming outdated, and might no longer be the most useful way to think about, or plan for, our future.

It’s now time to prepare – financially and mindset wise – for a longer lifespan. This means embracing a multi-stage life by planning for the challenges as well as seizing the opportunities. By anticipating the need for rest and re-education, and creating a long-term financial plan, you could enjoy better overall wellbeing – whatever stage of life you’re at.

Why ‘learn, work, retire’ no longer makes sense

The three-stage life is a one-size-fits-all framework that doesn’t reflect the realities of modern society – people are now living longer and more varied lives. Today, 1 in 4 children born in the UK can expect to live to almost 100.1

This increased longevity is turning the idea of the three-stage life upside down, blurring the lines between the phases of learning, working and retiring. As we live longer lives, working for longer could become a necessity for some. For others, it’ll be a choice taken willingly to stay on at work past the standard retirement age for mental and/or physical reasons.2

The face of work is already changing

Our longer lives mean stopping work completely at the standard retirement age will simply not make sense for many. In fact, only 27% of us currently in employment expect a ‘hard stop’ at retirement.2 Reasons vary for wanting to keep working – 57% of UK workers say they’re staying employed for longer as they enjoy working life, and 54% want to keep their mind sharp.2

Between April and June 2022, the number of people aged 65 and over in employment in the UK increased by a record 173,000, reaching a high of 1.468 million.3 This could be down to cost of living pressures, or they might want to boost their retirement savings.

According to our research, 63% of 55- to 64-year-olds have less than £100,000 in long-term savings.4 If, these people live to 100, they could struggle to maintain the lifestyle they’re used to.

young woman hugging her father with her mother looks on happily

What does the multi-stage life look like?

Clearly, a reframing of both work and life is needed. Today, there’s a new shape of living – sometimes referred to as the 100-year life or the multi-stage life. Economist Andrew J Scott and organisational theorist Lynda Gratton, describe the concept of the multi-stage life as periods of learning, work and leisure spread throughout a person’s life.

In this dynamic model, life stages are no longer tied to age. Education doesn’t always end at 25, and retirement doesn’t necessarily begin at 65. Instead, there’s a greater focus on lifelong learning. This suggests that individuals might experience different careers, breaks and transitions over the course of their life, and stay more active and engaged in their later years.

The opportunities that come with a multi-stage life

A more flexible life structure means you have more freedom to learn new things, explore your interests and enjoy special moments with loved ones. It also enables you to reorganise your time so that work, learning and leisure take place not in a fixed order, but across your whole life – giving you more scope to pursue your passions and hobbies as you age.

Thanks to greater longevity, people will likely live through more cultural, social, and technological shifts, and there will be a constant need to upskill and reskill to keep up with the changing times. Many of us will also want, or need to retire later, which has several advantages. For example, later retirement could benefit you financially, helping you to build up your nest egg and save more for your golden years. To consider this in more detail, read our article How could retiring at a later age benefit you?

The value of an investment isn’t guaranteed and could fall as well as rise.

With a multi-stage life, financial planning becomes all the more important. And yet, only 17% of people have a plan to achieve their long term money goals.4 Rethinking your current money mindset might be something to consider, to enjoy greater confidence in your financial future. Whether that’s exploring ways to achieve your savings goals or finding out how to make the most of your pension. Read our articles, A guide to creating your 100-year financial life plan, and Improving your bouncebackability: 5 tips to boost your financial resilience for more ideas on how to improve your long-term financial wellbeing.

Living life to the fullest

All in all, the three stages of ‘learn, work, retire’ are likely to fade away as we start to embrace the age of longevity, whatever age you’re at. For those of us who are younger, this means planning ahead and building a resilient money mindset – while keeping in mind what brings you joy and purpose both now and in the future. For those who have retired or are approaching retirement, this could mean a variety of things, for example how exploring how our passions could also become a source of income. After all, the multi-stage life is not a threat or a burden, but an opportunity to adopt a new and more positive approach to living and working.

1 Life expectancy calculator. Data source, Office for National Statistics, January 2022.

The Second 50, Navigating a multi-stage life, page 2. Data source, Aegon, September 2023.

3 People aged 65 years and over in employment, UK: January to March 2022 to April to June 2022. Data source, Office for National Statistics, September 2022.

4 How you can improve your financial wellbeing, page 14 and 15. Data Source, Aegon’s Centre for Behavioural Research, July and August 2023, 10,040 UK residents.  


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