Savings and Retirement Years

The number of years savings can be expected to last is a question worrying many current and soon-to-be retirees. The answer hinges on a number of issues, including how much annual income you'll need, what inflation does in the future and, most importantly, how long you will live. Although most people have no idea how long they will live, researching their life expectancy is one way to fill in this blank in their retirement plans. But how is life expectancy calculated and should you put much reliance on it when planning for the future? Here's what we found out when we consulted some experts.


Life expectancy can be roughly defined as the average age at which a group of people of the same age and gender are likely to die. Basically, it's determined by taking all the ages at which the people in a group are likely to die and then averaging them. Half will die by that age and half will live past it.

The most important thing to remember about life expectancy is that it doesn't lock in at birth. As you get older, the age to which you're expected to live gets higher because the people in your age group who have died are no longer counted in the equation. For that reason, you can't just check your life expectancy at age 65 and base your planning on that for the rest of your life.

For example, the life expectancy at birth for males born in 1931 was 59. Those who lived to age 30 then had a life expectancy of 67. At 65, those remaining can no anticipate living not two but 12 more years to age 77. And once they reach 70, their life expectancy increases to 79.

Life Expectancy Tables

Tables showing life expectancies for various groups are used by employers to figure pension benefits, by insurance companies to sell life insurance and annuities, and by taxpayers who are following IRS rules for computing minimum distributions from retirement plans.

No two life expectancy tables will be exactly alike. Their data depends on when and how the tables were created, where the death rates came from and whether they've been adjusted to make them more current.

For example, some companies still use the "83 GAM" table to calculate how much they need to provide their retirees with a lifetime of monthly pension payments. 83 GAM is based on 1966 data, which was updated with projections to 1983. Other companies use the newer UP-94 table, recommended by the Society of Actuaries, which shows significant increases in life expectancies at most ages.

The UP-94 table projects that men age 55 will live to age 80 and women to 84½. And someone who is 80, according to the table, can look forward to another eight to ten years of life.

Best Bet: Plan for Your 90s

Keep in mind that life expectancy figures are conservative. According to Dr. Kenneth Manton at Duke University's Center for Demographic Studies, individuals who don't smoke, maintain a healthy weight and keep their blood pressure and cholesterol under control with diet and exercise could live ten to 15 years longer than current tables project. If longevity runs in your family, your odds are even better.

Therefore, unless you have life-threatening health problems, it's a good idea for you and your spouse to plan on living into your 90s.

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