Are You Longevity Literate?

longevity planning Aug 31, 2023

Unfortunately, our society does not get high marks for financial literacy. By some accounts, adults on average can correctly answer only about 50% of basic money questions. This lack of understanding costs people on average over $1,800 annually.  

But, we may score even worse on longevity literacy and with graver consequences. According to a recent study by the TIAA Institute, longevity literacy is an understanding of how long people tend to live upon reaching the retirement age of 65. Their estimate is that just 12% of people have strong longevity literacy.

How can you plan for a long, purposeful, socially connected, healthy and financially secure life if you lack grasp of key facts?  


A key part of longevity literacy is understanding the probability distribution of life expectancy outcomes (Source: Richard H. Thaler et al) 


Are You Longevity Literate?


Longevity literacy, as defined by TIAA, incorporates a basic understanding of the distribution of probabilities for how long people may live at age 65 and beyond. It incorporates averages as well as the odds of outliers – either living just a few years past age 65 or living 90 years or beyond.


Take the test yourself. These are the three questions:


#1: On average in the U.S, how long will a 65-year-old man/woman live?

Answer: 84 for men, 87 for women.


#2: In the U.S., what is the likelihood that a 65-year-old man/woman will live at last until age 90?

Answer: ~30% for men, ~40% for women


#3: In the U.S., what is the likelihood that a 65-year-old man/woman will live not live beyond age 70?

Answer: ~5 to 10% for men, <5% for women


While men tend to have higher financial literacy than women, women are more longevity literate then men. This may be due to the greater role women tend to have spearheading healthcare decisions and in caregiving for their families.


True longevity literacy includes an understanding of the importance of social connection, including how where you live can influence the ability to gather with others (Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)  


True Longevity Literacy is Something More

While the recent study is good in highlighting basic facts about longevity, it falls short on what’s necessary for proper planning to help optimize a long, healthy, and financially secure life.

First, while society averages can be helpful as a first step, what’s particularly important is the probability distribution for your life. For a variety of reasons, your life expectancy may fall short or exceed the population average. Your general health and certain lifestyle habits, such as smoking, can be key factors. The Society of Actuaries and American Academy of Actuaries has created the Longevity Illustrator to provide a basic illustration of how one’s probability curve may differ from the population at large. (See “What If You Live Longer Than Planned?”)

Second, and more important, living longer is not necessarily better if quality of life is not maintained. Our life decisions matter at every age. Do you have purpose? Are you socially connected? Are you physically active and mentally well? Are you financially well? Do you live in a place that meets your physical as well as emotional and psychological needs and desires?

True longevity literacy accounts for an understanding of a broad range of factors that influence our healthspan and wealthspan, including the critical role of place. (See “Where You Live Matters”)


If spending time with your children's chidren or your children's children's children is important to you, true longevity literacy should lead to proper planning and execution around key life goals (Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash)


Embracing the Opportunities of Living in the Age of Longevity

As more and more of us live longer – experts predict that 50% of kids born today in developed countries will live to at least 100 years of age – longevity literacy will be increasingly necessary but not sufficient. It will be critical to move from education to planning to execution. Our society is putting a greater responsibility on the individual to thrive in this Age of Longevity and you may need the help of friends and advisors to set yourself up for future success. (See “The Responsibility of Living Longer” and “Who’s Your A-Team?”)

If you find yourself not being as longevity literate as you would like, now is a good time to get smart. Your future self – no matter the age – will be grateful.



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