When Warren Buffett turned 80 at the end of August, the headlines blared his intent to work until he turns 100. That's a nice sentiment, you may have thought. Unlikely, but nice.
Not so fast. How about Sidney Harman buying Newsweek magazine this summer at the age of 92? Who's to say he doesn't have eight more good years in his tank? Hundreds of other well-known business leaders are well into their 80s. Kirk Kerkorian, Las Vegas gaming and entertainment legend, is 93.
[In Pictures: Renowned Business Leaders Working Past 80.]
Longevity has taken up residence in the corner office. Many business leaders routinely work beyond age 65. That's not new. But increasingly, they're keeping the lights on for decades after reaching what used to be the traditional retirement age.
And while we see this trend in business, longevity experts tell us that it can be found throughout society. Truth be told, academic research has consistently found two variables that are powerfully associated not only with old age but being highly productive in old age.
"Higher education and higher incomes are consistently associated" with successful aging and high-achieving older persons, says Laura Carstensen, a noted researcher on aging and the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. People with knowledge and money tend to occupy homes in better neighborhoods, have jobs that aren't physically taxing or hazardous, and live in cleaner environments, she notes. "So, that's part of it," she says. "But a huge piece of this are that people in this category can navigate their lives themselves. They can control their lives." As an example, she cited research that well-educated people dealt more effectively with health problems than other groups. When they sit down with their doctors, they pepper them with informed questions and take ownership of their medical conditions.
"This group of people has very little in the way of functional disabilities," Carstensen says of Buffett and other older business leaders. "What we know about them is that they're doing incredibly well, physically and emotionally."
There is a truly heartening and profound implication of seeing a group of such high-functioning older persons, she notes. "It proves that aging itself is not what is limiting human activities as we get old."
Of course, Carstensen notes, the ranks of the wealthy and highly educated are not enormous. What about the rest of us?
[Visit the U.S. News Retirement site for more planning ideas and advice.]
Older people of all backgrounds have some good tools they've developed to help them age successfully, she says. "As people age, they tend to narrow their worlds," Carstensen says. "They are pruning their worlds and their social networks. In the process, they are keeping the best things, and letting go of things they don't care about." This helps them be more selective, make better judgments, use their time well, and be more in control of their environments and their lives.
"People with more resources can do this even better," she says. "This is just a hunch, but I bet people aren't very successful at pushing Warren Buffett to do things he doesn't want to do."
Actually, it has been reported that Buffett's wife, Astrid, has had modest success in convincing him to trade in cheeseburgers and Cokes for healthier fare. He also exercises but makes no claims to a meaningfully healthy lifestyle.
Steve Jordan, business editor at the Omaha World-Herald, has covered Buffett for years. Here's an insight into Buffett's longevity from one of his stories:
Nutritional dentist (yes, there are such) Gregg Schneider of Linden, N.J., is nothing if not true to his profession. When he realized that Buffett seemingly existed on peanut brittle, soda, hamburgers, steak, ice cream, and hash browns, he knew what he had to do. 'These are not the doctor's prescriptions for a long and healthy life,' he wrote to Buffett, encouraging him to choose healthy food and take nutritional supplements.