What the Numbers Tell Us about Living Longer in Retirement

It usually precedes arguments for various strategies to help build retirement security in an age of boundless longevity - such as persuading people to save more money or delay filing for Social Security.

It also is used to argue that pension, Social Security or Medicare benefits are unaffordable, and should be cut.

What the Numbers Tell Us about Living Longer in Retirement 1

Average longevity has indeed risen in the United States but the gains are tapering off, according to the Society of Actuaries (SOA), which this week released its annual “mortality improvement scale,” which pension plan sponsors use to project their future payout obligations.

It reflects a slight decline in life expectancy compared with 2017 due to growth in three of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States: unintentional injury, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.

All three categories increased significantly from 2015 to 2016, he notes.

The new life expectancy for a 65-year-old man fell just over a month, to 85.6 years; for women, the average number fell just under a month, to 87.6 years.

The question is, why?

The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and they spend more on healthcare per capita than any other country.

But life expectancy and gains in health have lagged other high-income countries for years, according to a 2013 report sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and which included a panel of medical experts.

The study notes that the United States does have lower-than-average cancer death rates and better control of blood pressure and cholesterol than peer countries.

As a result, if you reach age 75 you can expect to live longer than your counterparts abroad.

But overall, the study found that Americans are faring worse in a wide range of measures, including infant mortality and low birth weight, injuries and homicides, drug-related deaths, obesity and diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease.

Many of the conditions sharply reduce the odds of reaching age 50 - and for those who do, the conditions contribute to poorer health and greater illness later in life, the report found.

What the Numbers Tell Us about Living Longer in Retirement

Epidemiologists have documented that societies with less economic equality have worse than average health.

Some of this stems from the inability of lower-income households to meet basic needs such as adequate nutrition and shelter.

A study released earlier this year by the actuaries at the Social Security Administration based on the agency’s massive database on American workers confirmed that lifetime earnings have a profound effect on longevity.

Proposals to raise the age of eligibility for Social Security or Medicare would be a cruel blow to workers on the wrong side of those numbers.

If we are going to achieve more appropriate long-term reforms to these programs it will be important to convince the public that “No - we are not all living longer.”


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