Uncertainty Over Life Expectancy Becoming a Mainstream Concept

Following on in the theme of last week's post on the spreading ideas of longevity science, I think it's fair to say that uncertainty in projected life expectancy is now a fairly mainstream concept. Vast sums of money - the massive industries of pensions, life insurance, and so forth - rest upon reasonably accurate actuarial projections of life span and mortality rate.

Long term projections of life span continue to trend upward as the actuaries revise their opinions on biotechnology - but I believe they still fail to account for potential revolutionary advances in medicine that lie ahead. The level of uncertainty at least is fairly well grasped now within the actuarial industry, but for various political reasons it is only slowly seeping into official projections.

Unfortunately for these industries, and for governments whose politicians have made promises of future entitlements based upon old projections of life span, the advance of biotechnology is making the future exceedingly uncertain. Uncertain in a good way, of course - more life for us. If there are people and institutions out there whose livelihoods depend upon betting against increasing longevity ... well, the sooner they find a different business to be in, the better off they'll be.

I recently noticed a BusinessWeek article that touches on this and related issues:

As the 79-million-strong Baby Boom generation starts hitting age 65, demographers and medical researchers are increasingly at odds over how long they'll live. It's a question with major implications on a national level, for how much Social Security and Medicare will cost future generations of Americans. On a personal level, life expectancy complicates plans for saving and spending: Live too long and risk running out of money; die young and you can't take it with you.


One obvious way to finance a longer retirement is to save more, either by spending less or working longer. If maximum life spans extend to 100 years or even past 110, longer careers will be easier for older Americans and might even be psychologically beneficial, says Steven Austad, a professor at the University of Texas Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies in San Antonio. "The retirement age of 65 makes no sense whatsoever anymore," Austad says.

Retirement is one of many things that will be changing. I think that the idea of uncertainty in future life span due to advancing biotechnology may be a good path for many new faces to find their way to the healthy life extension community. It is a way past the unspoken assumption that so many people have: that their lives will look the much same as those of their parents and grandparents in scope. Further, it doesn't take much investigation for an interested person to move past the very conservative viewpoint of uncertainty in life expectancy being a matter of a few years added here and few years lost there, and find scientists who talk of adding decades to life in the first half of this century. Even those scientists are moderates compared to folk at the SENS Foundation and similar visionaries - and the first step to finding out that all this exists is to step beyond the first, naive assumptions most people have about the future of human life span.


Gee, could there be a way to make money here, e.g. buying life insurance stocks or shorting annuities? Surely some financial instruments are going to be very affected as this perception goes mainstream.

Posted by: Will Nelson at January 31st, 2011 2:54 PM

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