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U.S. Death Rate Expected to Remain High: Analysts

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What You Need to Know

  • One concern is uncertainty about the effects of post-COVID-19 health problems.
  • The outlook for annuity holders could be better than for the general population.
  • The predictions for 2030 might surprise you.

U.S. death analysts are predicting that the U.S. death rate will stay high this year but will moderate by 2025.

They are suggesting that overall U.S. mortality levels could return to normal levels around 2030, and might even be lower than expected that year for people with life insurance, pension plans and individual annuities, according to a mortality forecast report posted by the Society of Actuaries Research Institute.

But one obvious implication of the mortality specialist survey is that “uncertainty remains about the future of course of the pandemic” and that the SOA institute needs to conduct more surveys about the implications of the pandemic for U.S. mortality over the next few years, Ronora Stryker, a research actuary at the institute, wrote in the report.

What It Means

Any income planning or other arrangements you help clients set up now need to reflect the uncertainty about mortality.

The Survey

An SOA institute team gathered the forecasts used in the new report by polling members of the Society of Actuaries’ Mortality and Longevity Strategic Research Program Steering Committee.

The project team received 59 responses, including 47 from actuaries and 12 from academics, demographers, epidemiologists, underwriters, data scientists and others with an interest in mortality.

The non-actuaries were more pessimistic than the actuaries.

The survey team asked a loosely worded question about expectations for excess mortality for 25-year-olds, 45-year-olds, 65-year-olds and 85-year-olds.

Participants could define “excess mortality” in their own way. Some might have compared current mortality with actual 2019 mortality, and others might have computed excess mortality by comparing current mortality with what mortality would have been if 2019 mortality trends had continued, Stryker said.

In the future, she said, the SOA institute will conduct a survey with a more detailed definition of the term “excess mortality.”

The General Population Results

The participants predicted that, overall, mortality will be about 9% to 14% higher in 2022 than expected, based on pre-pandemic data, for each age group included, but that the excess mortality gaps will fall to 3% to 6% by 2025, and to 1% to 2% by 2030.

The Clients

For life insurance insureds, excess mortality levels might range from 7% to 10% in 2022 for life insurance insureds of the specified ages, according to the survey participants.

The gaps could fall to 1% to 2% by 2025, and life insurance insureds mortality might be 1% better than expected by 2030, due to the effects of COVID-19 have a stronger effect on people with problems such as diabetes than on healthy people.

For annuity annuitants, the 2022 excess mortality level might be just 5% to 6%.

The participants see annuitant excess mortality disappearing in 2025 for 25-year-olds and 45-year-olds.

For 65-year-olds and 85-year-olds who have annuities in 2025, the “survivor selection” effect could lead to those clients having death rates 1% below the expected level.

By 2030, for clients with individual annuities, mortality could be about 1% lower than expected for 25-year-olds, 2% lower for 45-year-olds, and 3% lower for 65-year-olds and 85-year-olds.

Long COVID-19

About 88% of the participants predicted that long COVID, or post-COVID-19 health problems, will increase the overall U.S. death rate this year, and 65% predicted that long COVID will still be a significant problem in 2025.

Only 44% are expecting long COVID to be a big problem in 2030.

Indirect Pandemic Effects

In narrative comments, survey participants emphasized that COVID-19 could have important indirect effects on the U.S. death rate.

“I believe that long COVID will impact cancer incidence and treatment, as well as depression and alienation, which come from the lockdowns, causing overall higher mortality for the next few years,” one participant wrote.

Another suggested that long COVID might offset the effects of COVID-19 tending to be more fatal for people with pre-existing health problems than among generally healthy people.

A third participant predicted that COVID-19 will drive mortality trends for people ages 65 and older, but that drug overdoses will be a more serious mortality problem for people under 65.

(Image: Elise Amendola/AP)


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