The Million Dollar Question

How long will I live? If you know that, you should get a job reading tarot cards.

For obvious reasons, a lot is riding on how long you will be around. It’s interesting to hear responses to that simple question. When asking clients, I will get responses from “not long, I hope”, to “I hope I make it to 100”. Interestingly, how you feel about mortality could play a role in how long you might live.

A good starting point is a simple mortality table. Insurance companies and pension funds have a lot of to gain or lose based on their predictions about how long their annuitants or insureds will live. Using the averages found in a mortality table will be a good point of reference. According to the Social Security Administration, the average male aged 65 will live to age 83, while a female is expected to live to be 85 (Bell and Miller, 2005). It’s a long standing trend that women tend to live longer. The number of years that women tend to outlive men has been slowly shortening.

Another point of reference is familial life expectancy. The age of a mother or father at death can tell you if perhaps your familial experience has differed from the norm. In some ways, death at a young age might seem to be an anomaly, but as far as statistics go, this really isn’t the case. For example, take a scenario where your father died of a heart attack at age 63, and your mother is still alive at age 95. You might consider erring on the side of your mom, but the reality is that if your dad passed at 63, you could suffer from the same problem.

What I find most interesting with respect to predictors of mortality is the “wealth effect” and also the effect of education on life expectancy. Put simply, wealthier people tend to live longer, as do those with higher educational attainment. These two factors will obviously go hand-in-hand, in that those with higher education tend to hive higher earnings during their working years. But educational attainment is a static variable, whereas earnings may fluctuate over ones working life. Take, for example, a well-educated professional woman that either takes time out from working to raise a family, or leaves the workforce altogether, never to return.

Would you believe that marital status also plays a role in mortality? Married couples tend to live the longest, followed by divorced individuals, then those that never married, and lastly widows. Why?

This brings me to the last factor-how you FEEL. Statisticians, economists and mathematicians aren’t fond of this factor because they can’t measure feelings and behavior with an equation. But we all know that the mind plays an important role in health. Sure, some of what you read or hear may seem like a bunch of hooey. But scientists have clearly documented the effects that what we have going on in our mind can have on our body.

Do you think someone that is unhappy living alone will live as long as someone that embraces each and every day, possibly because they have children, grandchildren or even a pet? Would someone with, say, a dog or cat live longer than someone who feels all alone? This could explain why married couples tend to live longer than those that have lost a spouse or were never married. Or maybe these statistics are misleading? Perhaps wealthier folks with higher education tend to marry more than other segments of the population, and it is really more the result of better healthcare than it is the union between each other in and of itself? A topic for another day.


Bell, Felicitie C., and Michael L. Miller. 2005. “Life Tables for the United States Social Security Area 1900-2100,” Actuarial Study No. 120. Retrieved from