Excerpt from Living Well At One Hundred, written by Dr. Darlene McCord
Wow! Living To 120!
The number of people living past one hundred doubled between 1980 and 1990, and the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the number of centenarians will reach one hundred thirty-one thousand by the year 2010. The projections show a doubling every ten years, with the number reaching eight hundred thirty-four thousand by 2050. The growth in this population segment is so large that it is now called “Generation C” (the “C” here represents the Roman numeral for one hundred). Demographers are now counting the number of supercentenarians, defined as people age 110 or older.
In the past, it was an unusual feat when someone lived to what was considered to be the old age of seventy. Today, the fastest-growing population in the U.S. is people eighty-five or older. These days, with all our modern advances in medicine, treatment, and our healthier lifestyles, more and more people are living longer and enjoying their good health well into their golden years. Scientific American reports that there are currently more than sixty thousand people nationwide who are more than one hundred years old, up dramatically from just a decade ago. Many experts on aging say they are surprised every day by the number of people who are able to live without assistance well into their nineties. According to a group of scientists at Oxford University, the ability of people to live to the upper limits of 120 years of age will be possible due to advancements in modern medicine.
Life expectancy: the upward progression of this is interesting. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, life expectancy was just twenty-three years; in the 1800s, life expectancy was still under fifty years; in the 1900s we were expected to live into our seventies and eighties. Now it is predicted that anywhere from one to three million baby boomers will reach their one hundredth birthdays, while one in ten girls and one in twenty boys born today will live to be one hundred. Figures like these indicate that life expectancy is not set in stone. In fact, we have only scratched the surface of our understanding of the elements that impact it.
In past decades we were trained to believe that we were supposed to work hard, save for our retirement at sixty-five, live only a few years more, and then leave the rest of our accumulated money to family and friends. Now, with more baby boomers in this country reaching age one hundred, sixty-five may be considered middle-aged!
What do the Bible and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have in common? It may be hard to imagine, but both refer to the fact that you can live to 120. That’s right! Genesis 6:3 states, “[Man’s] days shall be a hundred and twenty years,” while the IRS passed a ruling that went into effect on January 1, 2009, requiring that every actuarial table must anticipate that you may live to be 120. (I guess the IRS is just getting caught up on the two-thousand-year-old news.) Insurance companies, human resources departments, retirement fund planners, financial institutions, and anyone else providing benefits to individuals over the course of their lifetimes use actuarial tables. These companies do not set the life expectancy criterion—your government (specifically, the IRS)— does. As a result, financial planners are spending trillions of dollars based on the belief that you are going to be living longer than ever before, well beyond one hundred. If you are sixty, according to your government, you are only middle-aged, and the phrase “the rest of your life” is taking on new meaning. We are clearly living longer than any of us ever imagined possible.
What does any of this have to do with you? Not only are prolonged life and good health great news for America’s seniors from a lifestyle perspective, but they are also positive things from a life insurance perspective. Insurance companies will be adopting new actuarial tables that incorporate the new projected mortality levels within the next five or six years, many of them even sooner. Actuarial and mortality tables are utilized by life insurance companies to compute the probability of death by a certain age. In other words, they tell life insurance companies how long you are expected to live, on average, based on your age and sex. For the first time in more than twenty years, the American Academy of Actuaries has revised the tables to reflect America’s trend toward living longer. The new tables increase the maximum (theoretical) life expectancy to 120 years, not because actuaries think many people will actually live to the age of 120, but because this is the absolute highest age that it is theoretically possible for a person to reach today.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2000, the average life expectancy for American males was seventy-four, up four years from 1980 (when the previous tables were written). For American females, the average life expectancy in 2000 was seventy-nine years, up two years from the 1980 tables. In addition, the annual improvement in male mortality of the general U.S. population has improved by 2 percent in the age group fifty-five to fifty-nine and has improved by 1.2 percent for females of the same age group.
Longer life spans mean that the mortality and expense charges you pay for insurance coverage should be lower, which should, in turn, lower your premiums: some insurance companies are claiming that the new tables will allow them to drop their rates by as much as 30 percent once they are adopted. Insurance companies benefit from the longer life spans of their consumers because they don’t have to set aside as much money to cover death benefit payouts, so these savings should be passed on to their consumers. (Some sources estimate that most insurance companies will be putting aside approximately 15 percent less than they currently do to cover death benefits. These changes mean that it is especially important to examine your insurance policy frequently and compare rates of various companies to see who has adopted the new tables and are therefore able to offer you lower rates.)