Academic Sarah Harper says the days of a partner for life are over. But marriage isn't the only thing that will need to change as we (hopefully) enjoy our longer livesby Julian Baggini / June 5, 2017 / Leave a comment
A generation or so ago, many wished for a job for life, a spouse for life, and were happy with a home for life, a bank for life, even furniture for life. With average life expectancy now topping 81, however, all these expectations have been challenged.
Most gave up on a job for life long ago and when Sarah Harper, an Oxford Professor of Gerontology, said this week that the days of a partner for life were over, she was only repeating what many happily separated people have said before.
Familiar though such ideas are, we still haven’t entirely got to grips with how longer average lifespan is shaking up much of what we take for granted. In family life, for example, it is not just spouses who are having to rethink the repercussions of longevity. Until recently, there was a natural flow of life stages, from child, to parent, to grandparent, with each having its own responsibilities and benefits. This model was not designed for 70-year-old grandparents with parents of their own, or for fifty-something parents with legally adult children who are still in a kind of extended adolescence.
Let’s take those young wastrels first. Why are we still so obsessed with front-loading education? “Lifelong learning” has been a buzzphrase for decades now, but we still don’t get it. Education is too often wasted on the young. Let them experiment with other things post-18 and they can go to tertiary education a bit later if they want to. Much of the money we currently spend on them should go to the quaternary or even quinary education of older people often more eager and willing to learn, and more in need of doing so.