No doubt it’s crossed your mind before just how long you are going to live.
As with many areas of our lives, the federal government is glad to offer some help here! It publishes live expectancy tables and update them regularly. For example, a child born in the U.S. in 2019 has an average life expectancy of 79 years. For 100 kids born in 2019, 50 are expected to die prior to age 79 and 50 will live to 79 and beyond.
A couple of points to note about this statistic: First, these averages include all deaths, including infant mortality. If a female makes it to age 65 in the U.S., she then has a life expectancy of around age 90. A male age 65 can expect to live on average to age 85. Just for kicks, I used to ask students in my retirement planning class why they thought women outlived men. The responses were interesting to say the least. Closest I ever came to having a fight break out in the classroom!
The second point on these statistics is that life expectancies in the U.S. have now declined two years in a row. A child born in the U.S. in 2020 has a life expectancy of 77 years and one born in 2021 is down to 76 years. It’s the first two-year drop in life expectancies in over 100 years. As scientific advances and medical care have progressed over the years, life expectancies have traditionally increased. As an example, Social Security was passed in 1935 and would begin paying you a pension at age 65. Average life expectancy that year was 63. Hawaii has the highest life expectancy at 80.7. Mississippi is the lowest at 71.9. Arkansas is close to the bottom at 72. In general, southern states don’t fare as well as other parts of the country. Maybe it’s the fried food!
As you might expect, the decline in life expectancy is primarily due to COVID. But that’s not the sole driver. Suicides were up sharply over the past few years, which is no doubt somewhat related to COVID and the associated isolations. There’s also been a sharp increase in deaths from overdoses. And the increased incidence of obesity in our society is a factor as well.
A while back I was working on some Social Security projections for a client and ran across the website Living to 100. The website asks you numerous questions on your personal situation and then projects your life expectancy. Mine came out at 88 years. Coincidentally or not, my dad passed at age 88.
A curious question on the survey: Do you floss? I mentioned to my dentist I thought this was an odd question. He said not at all. Of course, I would expect a dentist to be pro-flossing. He then went on to explain that the mouth is a prime area for infections to enter the bloodstream. Sounds logical.
Your takeaway here: Even though we’ve seen a couple of back-to-back declines in life expectancy, you can still expect to live another 20 plus years after you retire. Perhaps longer if you are an avid flosser! That’s a long time with no paycheck. But consumption continues. You’re still going to need money for food, clothing, housing, dental floss, etc. So plan accordingly by saving and investing on a regular basis. It’ll sure make that retirement stage of life a lot more comfortable!
Dr. David Ashby is a Certified Financial Planner and the retired Peoples Bank Professor of Finance at Southern Arkansas University. He holds degrees in accounting and business administration and a doctorate in finance from Louisiana Tech.