In the good ole’ days, it was common to work for one company your entire career and retire with a lifetime pension. With a pension plan, Social Security and a little bit of savings, retirees could live comfortably during their golden years. The risk of living a long time was borne by the company (pension plan) and the federal government (Social Security).
However, during the 1970s and 80s, the defined benefit pension plan began to die a slow, agonizing death. Although most public employees still have such a pension, the majority of private-sector workers do not. Without a pension, the individual bears a greater responsibility to invest for their retirement. Individuals also face the risk of outliving their money, which brings us to our topic, increasing life expectancies.
In this article we’ll explain precisely what life expectancy means, discuss its importance in planning for retirement and look at a few statistics for the world at large as well as the United States. Finally, we’ll conclude by exploring ways that we, as advisors, can help our clients navigate the choppy waters of retirement.
Life Expectancy: Definition and Importance
Life expectancy may be defined as the number of years a person is expected to live beyond their attained age. However, there’s a bit more to it than that. For example, if everyone in the country lived until age 70, but 25% of all births resulted in death (i.e. infant mortality), the life expectancy might be around 37 years. In this case, if you consider the life expectancy of everyone at age five, it would be 65 years. My point is that life expectancy can be skewed by a number of factors.
Here’s another example to consider. A 40 year old today has a life expectancy of 43.6 years (until age 83.6). Individuals who are 84 today have a life expectancy of 8.1 years (until age 92.1). Therefore, if your client is 40, it’s not enough to plan for the money to last until age 84. We must plan for an age beyond this. Hence, life expectancy is one of the most important assumptions in the planning process.
Just last month, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that average life expectancy for Americans aged 65 as of 2012 had risen to 19.3 years—20.5 years for women; 17.9 years for men.
Although many are uncomfortable discussing death, it’s a conversation that needs to happen. Projecting the number of years an individual will need to withdraw from their portfolio is critical. How do you handle it? Do you use life expectancy? Life expectancy plus X years? An arbitrary age, say 95? While we’re pondering this issue, the client may be wondering, “How long will I live?” and, “Will I run out of money?” What age should you use regarding this issue? Perhaps a few statistics will help.
Japan has more centenarians (those who are 100 years old or older) per million of total population (347) than any other country. In fact, the Shimane Prefecture of Japan (located on the northern shore on the western part of Japan) has an estimated 743 centenarians per million. The U.S. has about 232 per million in this club as of November 2010.
Life Expectancy in the U.S.