Death awaits all of us, but how patiently? To unlock the mystery of when we’re going to die, start with an actuary.
Specializing in the study of risk and uncertainty, members of this 200-year-old profession pore over the data of death to estimate the length of life. Putting aside the spiritual, that’s crucial information for insurance companies and pension plans, and it’s also helpful for planning retirement, since we need our money to last as long we do.
The latest, best guesses for U.S. lifespans come from a study (PDF) released this month by the Society of Actuaries: The average 65-year-old American man should die a few months short of his 86th birthday, while the average 65-year-old woman gets an additional two years, barely missing age 88.
This new data turns out to be a disappointment. Over the past several years, the health of Americans has deteriorated—particularly that of middle-aged non-Hispanic whites. Among the culprits are drug overdoses, suicide, alcohol poisoning, and liver disease, according to a Princeton University study issued in December.
Partly as a result, the life expectancy for 65-year-olds is now six months shorter than in last year’s actuarial study. Longevity for younger Americans was also affected: A 25-year-old woman last year had a 50/50 chance of reaching age 90. This year, she is projected to fall about six months short. (The average 25-year-old man is expected to live to 86 years and 11 months, down from 87 years and 8 months in last year’s estimates.) Baby boomers, Generation X, and yes, millennials, are all doing worse.