Mortality among the general and insured populations has witnessed remarkable improvement over the last several decades. Individuals today can expect to be healthier and to live longer than ever before.
Based on these developments, there is a tendency to think that mortality improvement will continue indefinitely, that it will improve at an even faster pace in the future, and that it will be great for all people, especially for the insured.
But future mortality trends will not mirror past trends, and compared to past mortality, future mortality could improve at a slower pace and could even worsen, even among the insured. As a result, better understanding of future mortality trends will spell success in: offering the right products, future product development, and underwriting.
Although general population mortality has improved over time, part of that may be overstated. Substantial mortality improvements often come after periods of mortality deterioration. For example, between 1970 and 1975, males aged 30-35 saw annual mortality improvement of over 2%; but this was likely an adjustment to the 1.5% annual mortality worsening that occurred during the previous five-year period.
Even major periods of mortality improvement can be followed by times of deterioration. Between 1980 and 1985, males aged 25-30 witnessed a 3.3% annual improvement in mortality; but in the next five years, males experienced 2.1% mortality deterioration.
Mortality operates within a complex framework and is influenced by socioeconomic factors, biological variables, government policies, environmental influences, health conditions and health behaviors.
Not all of these factors improve with time. Indeed, recent events underscore the risks of natural and human-made disasters, including terrorist attacks. Although cigarette smoking prevalence rates have declined since the 1964 Surgeon Generals Report, large proportions of the population continue to smoke. And although educational programs espouse the benefits of exercise and proper diets, obesity has increased in the U.S.
Over the last century, mortality has declined due to improved public health efforts such as chlorinization, pasteurization, and refrigeration; medical breakthroughs, including the use of antibiotics; and improvements in the environment and in increased standards of living such as better and more affordable housing, clothing and food.
Once these improvements are implemented, their contributions to mortality improvement are realized, and few additional gains remain; for example, once milk is pasteurized, additional pasteurization does not confer additional benefits. Thus, new improvements must be devised to continue improving mortality.