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A Stanford researcher says we shouldn’t start working full time until age 40

Climb the ladder at your own pace.

Jun 27 2018

Posted In:

Faculty, In the News

For people smack in the mad mid-life rush of managing full-time careers, dependent children, and aging parents, nothing feels so short in supply as time.

But there is time to get it all done, says psychologist Laura Carstensen, the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. The only problem is that we’ve arranged life all wrong.

A woman who is 40 years old today can expect to live another 45 years, on average, while 5% will live to see their 100th birthday. The average 40-year-old man will live another 42. For many people, most of those years will be healthy enough to continue work that doesn’t involve intense physical labor. So why are we still packing all of our career and family obligations into a few frantic decades?

Rather than a four-decade professional sprint that ends abruptly at 65, Carstensen argues, we should be planning for marathon careers that last longer but have more breaks along the way for learning, family needs, and obligations outside the workplace.

“We need a new model,” Carstensen says of the current norms around career pacing. The current one “doesn’t work, because it fails to recognize all the other demands on our time. People are working full-time at the same time they’re raising children. You never get a break. You never get to step out. You never get to refresh. . . .We go at this unsustainable pace, and then pull the plug.”

Longevity, as Carstensen sees it, is not about the biohacked immortalism popular in other parts of Silicon Valley. Her work focuses instead on redesigning institutions to accommodate the lives that people actually have—lives that are longer and in many cases healthier than at any time in human history.