The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) have established the Next Age Institute, which is an international partnership to study, design and test social innovations. The Next Age Institute addresses global challenges facing many families and communities, among them aging populations and rising inequality.
The meaning of Next Age Institute
The Next Age Institute will focus on human and social issues in a rapidly changing world. The name signals two intertwined themes. The first theme is that humans will live longer, healthier life spans, resulting in a “next age” after childhood and adulthood. This next life span age —sometimes called a “third age” and as yet to be fully defined — will present unusual challenges for families and communities in the design of living arrangements, economic support, health care and social services. In addition, older adulthood will become a period of more active engagement in the society and economy, more than simply withdrawal into “retirement,” which was a creation of the industrial era. The Next Age Institute (NAI) will help define this new phase of the human life span.
The second theme is that human societies will be different going forward. We have entered a new era defined by globalization and information technology. Human conditions will be no less challenging and complex than in the industrial era. Rising inequality will be accompanied by aging populations in many countries. At the same time, rapid innovation will be a defining feature of this next social age, leading to new ways of thinking about human communities, economic life, and shaping a new social contract — the relationship of citizens and the state.
Context and vision
Globalization and the shift to the information era are causing economic and social strains around the globe. Competition in global labor markets puts downward pressure on wages, and an increasing portion of global economic returns go to capital. At the same time, advances in public health and medicine have raised life expectancy dramatically in most countries.
With inequality rising in most countries, there is a major question regarding how people in the bottom half of society will be able to lead stable lives. This is not simply a humanitarian question but goes to the heart of opportunity and participation, education and productivity of future generations, and stability and success of nations.
In addition, aging populations will present the social and economic issues of longevity — primarily the challenges of old age economic security and medical care, but also the organization of labor markets, housing, community life and social services. All of this will be accompanied by a redefinition of what it means to be an older adult, including greater emphasis on active and productive aging.
In these circumstances, industrial-era policies and services are under strain in many countries. As a result, we live in a time when “the social contract” is being rewritten — sometimes through informed planning and decision making, but more often as reactive attempts to cope with stressful economic and social conditions.
Notwithstanding these circumstances, there is little substantial inquiry and discussion of renewed social policy — a new social contract — in the world today. Modest efforts take fragmented approaches and have not resulted in coherent bodies of evidence, nor come close to meaningful impact. The Next Age Institute will take up this challenge by creating and testing social innovations that can inform a renewed social contract in the 21st century.
A central mission will be enhancing economic security and building capabilities for active engagement across the life course, leading to more stable, engaged, and productive lives—beginning in the early years, enhanced throughout education and careers, and stretching deep into older adulthood. The core values of this initiative are inclusion (bring everyone in), capabilities (develop everyone’s potential), and action (engage for positive contributions).
We are guided by the vision of a world where people develop their capabilities and engage with the world across the life course, and where the poorest and oldest are not isolated in hardship. We aim to illuminate issues, create and test innovations, build capacity for voice and action, and inform positive and lasting changes, not only in Singapore and the United States but also in other countries in Asia and around the world. NAI will work cooperatively with other nations and international organizations. The work will be energetic, entrepreneurial, and rigorous. NAI will take a leadership position in defining a new social contract for the 21st century.
NAI at WUSTL is led by Professor Michael Sherraden, at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work. Sherraden was named the inaugural S. R. Nathan Professor at NUS in February 2014, honoring the retired president of Singapore. NAI at NUS is co-led by Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon from the Department of Economics and Associate Professor (Practice) Corinne Ghoh from the Department of Social Work, Faculty of Arts and Social Science. NAI leaders envision opportunities to create new knowledge and exchange for academics and policymakers.
NAI seeds support for research by NUS and WUSTL faculty and graduate students. The Institute provides the platform in Asia and the West to discuss innovative strategies and discover effective solutions. NAI has plans to organize international meetings and conferences. Research and book projects on areas relating to family caregiving, retirement, models of care and financial capability across life cycles are being planned.
The Lee Foundation, in Singapore, has generously supported the work of NAI, in collaboration with both NUS and WUSTL.