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Life Health > Life Insurance

Live to 120? No thanks

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Aging would get old, according to most Americans.

A new Pew Research Center study found that 60 percent of Americans don’t want to live past 90, and perhaps more surprisingly, 30 percent don’t want to live past 80. Only 10 percent want to live past 100. I’m assuming very few people 79 or older were among the 2,012 American adults who participated in the survey.

A child born in the United States today has a life expectancy of 78.7 years (76.2 for men, 81 for women). According to data from the Social Security Administration, a man who reaches age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84. A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86. And those are just averages. One out of every four 65 year olds today will live past age 90, and 1 out of 10 will live past age 95.

  • Want to know your life expectancy? You can use the Social Security Administration’s simple Life Expectancy Calculator to get a rough estimate of how long you (or your spouse) may live. They promote use of this tool to help Americans make a more informed choice regarding when to collect Social Security retirement benefits.

While most Americans may profess to not wanting to live beyond 90, that doesn’t mean they don’t think it will happen regularly for future generations. The Pew study found 1 in 4 Americans think the average person will live to be 120 by the year 2050. Still, 56 percent said they wouldn’t want to live to 120 even if medical advances allowed them to do so.

About half (51 percent) of survey respondents said living so long would be bad for society and would put a strain on natural resources. But it would also put an incredible strain on financial resources. We all know that right now there are plenty of seniors who will run out of money well before their mid-80s. So what would happen down the road if, thanks to advances in medical technology, life expectancy were to creep all the way up to 120? Would people still be working at age 90 or even 100?

And these long lifespans would also have a domino effect by damaging the retirement plans of their children, who in many cases would be financially supporting elderly parents. More than 20 percent of American ages 40-59 are currently providing financial support to an aging parent, according to another recent Pew Research Center report. Many of these adult children will continue providing support well into their 60s, which will have a damaging effect on their own retirement plans.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such an issue, as perhaps the medical treatments that would allow people to extend their life span to 120 would only be available to the wealthy, who would have a much greater likelihood of not outliving their money, even at such an advanced age. And maybe this won’t end up being much of an issue at all, as an average life expectancy of 120 by 2050 seems a bit, shall we say, optimistic.

Between 1900 and 2000, the average American life expectancy increased by 27.8 years for men and 31 years for women (according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). If that holds true for this century, by 2050 the average life expectancy for a man would be 88 and 94.8 years for women. Interestingly, the median answer for the “ideal life span” from respondents to the Pew poll was 90 years old.

I have to admit I would be one of those who would say 90 seems like the ideal life span. Planning for 25 years of retirement seems so much more feasible than 40 years (for someone who retires at 80 and lives to 120).

Some other interesting findings in the Pew Research Center poll:

  • 69 percent of Americans think there will be a cure for most forms of cancer by 2050.
  • 71 percent of Americans think there will be artificial arms and legs that perform better than natural ones by 2050.

For more from Brian Anderson, see:

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