Ready or Not: Calculating How Long You Might Live

Your life expectancy can have a huge impact on your financial planning.  In a separate blog article, we talked about how it’s so important to make sure your money lasts as long as you do, and nowadays, that means possibly to age 95 or 100.

If you know you’re likely to live to a ripe old age, you might cut back on spending to make your money last longer, or delay taking Social Security to maximize benefits. Likewise, if you anticipate a shorter than average lifespan, you might spend more money now to travel while you’re still healthy, or quit work early to enjoy time with family and friends.

Unfortunately, or perhaps I should say fortunately, we don’t know how long we might live, and that makes precise planning impossible.

But thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, there are a number of free online life expectancy calculators  that will estimate how long you will live based on health, behavioral and other data.  While no calculator can be totally accurate (none can predict, for example, if you’ll get cancer or get hit by a bus next week), they do offer you a helpful “benchmark” and can also give you valuable feedback about what you can do to extend your lifespan.

Be aware that different calculators will give you different results, because they take into account different data sets, and may assign different weights to each variable. For example, one calculator asks whether you floss your teeth daily and how many new friends you make.  Another asks whether a family member was  ever diagnosed with lung cancer and how carefully you drive.  But almost all ask if you wear your seat belt in the car, how often you exercise in a given week, and whether diabetes runs in the family.

Here’s a sampling of some popular life expectancy calculators, showing the range of results using myself as the guinea pig:

Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator: This is a bare-bones calculator. The only inputs are your gender and birthdate.  The calculator spits out your life expectancy based on the average number of additional years a person your age might expect to live.  According to this calculator, I’ll make it to just shy of 85 years old.

Northwestern Mutual Lifespan Calculator: The calculator starts with basics like gender, age, height and weight, then goes on to ask about family medical history, diet and exercise, blood pressure and safety habits like wearing a seat belt. According to this calculator, I can expect to live to 95 years.

Gosset/Wharton/UPenn calculator:  The overall presentation lacks in sophistication, but it does ask a series of family health questions (for example, whether anyone in your family has had prostate or breast cancer) and health safety questions (such as, how many miles do you drive each year).  Unlike other calculators, this one gives you a life expectancy range.  In my case, I’m expected to live to 92, with a lower range of 85 and a higher range of 100.

Peter Russell/Spirit of NowMore “new age” than mainstream medical, this site calculates your “virtual age” as contrasted with your “biological age.”  Despite the different approach, the questions are on-target and comprehensive.  According to this site, I should live to 98.  (I lost points for being divorced and driving an estimated 1,000 miles per month, but made up for it by liking my job and getting regular medical checkups).

Living to 100 Rated one of the “50 Coolest Websites” by Time magazine at its debut, this calculator was created by Thomas Perls, a geriatrician at the Boston University Medical School who studies centenarians to see what makes them tick. Dr. Perls says it’s a combination of genetics and habits.  “Most of us are built for about 88 years, a little bit less for men, a little bit more for women. Much of getting to that age depends on your health behavior. To add an additional 10 to 12 years beyond that, you may need to either lack disease genes or have some of those longevity-enabling genes,” according to Dr. Perls.

The calculator is extremely comprehensive, asking the usual questions about smoking, drinking, and stress, but also more probing questions about mental activity and friendships, family longevity and childbearing.  Based on your responses, the site provides customized tips on what you can do to extend your lifespan. The most important factors for me were cutting back on work hours, stopping iron supplements (which I mistakenly said I took), and starting a regimen of daily aspirin.  According to this calculator, I’ll make it to just shy of 102 years. (OK, so maybe I stretched the truth on just a few things!)

The takeaway:  Take the prognostications with a grain of salt, but there’s no doubt these calculators help create awareness of what you can do to have a positive influence on your health and wellness. For me, it helped underline the connection between how I live my life and how long I’ll have that life to live. If you find you’re putting off the new exercise regimen, or better eating habits, or doctor’s checkup for tomorrow, taking these calculators for a spin might give you the motivation you need to get started on tomorrow’s project today.

About Mari Adam

Mari Adam, Certified Financial Planner™ has been helping individuals and families chart their financial futures for over twenty-five years. Have a question about your financial situation? Ask Mari!

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