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How long will you live?

The demographics of how long we will live reveal some surprising statistics, especially in Australia. We frequently hear about people living into their nineties, and even one hundred years or more, but we read less about the other side of the demographics: how short many lives will be.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the life expectancy median for males born in 2022 was 81 years and for females, 85 years. But what about the expected years of life remaining for a person at a given age? The statistics overlook people who are already living and old. There will be many people alive now who will not reach 81 or 85 years.

If age 81 concerns anyone due to its life brevity, it is worth preparing for a future that makes the most of life’s opportunities now. The remaining expectancy might be 20, 30 or 40 years but nobody knows. A person born in 1955 to 1960 may expect to live until they are 70 or so but they may live an extended time. The longer someone lives, the longer they can expect to live.

The main message is that 81 is the expectancy, or median for men, at birth, not for a 81-year-old now. A person born in 1992, about 30 years ago, had a life expectancy of 74 years for males and 80 for females, a gap of almost six years. The Beatles were fresh on the stage and at the start of their lives, but 'When I'm 64' was considered old.

Maybe dying at the age of 65 to 70, even now, is not so unreasonable based on the original expectations.

Deaths in Australia, 2021

This latest expectancy based on deaths (not expectancy based on birth) in 2020-2022 included the three years of COVID and it is reflected in the death rates. The death rate before 2022 was lower than in previous years due to preventative measures during the pandemic. But in 2022, the number of deaths in Australia rose to almost 200,000 in one year, up from 171,469 the year before. Australia should not expect as many as 200,000 in future years for a while but the number will be up there eventually.

The latest statistics on deaths from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2021, shows death by age with a median of 79 for men and 85 for women. These numbers are based on the 2021 data including the 171,469 in 2021 deaths during the COVID period.

The statistics published by the ABS (due in a few months) for the end of 2024 will cover the 2023 year, and it will be revealing whether Australia holds the 200,000 deaths year level.

Back to the detailed in the 2021 AIHW data, when total deaths were 171,469, with 89,397 men and 82,068 women, drawing out the statistics for men shows:

  • 4.4% of men died before the age of 40
  • 10.3% of men died between the ages of 40 and 59
  • 13.3% of men died between the ages of 60 and 69 (that’s 28% by 69)
  • 23.8% of men died between the ages of 70 and 79 (that’s 52% by 79)
  • 31.1% of men died between the ages of 80 and 89 (that's 83% by 89)
  • 17.1% of men died over the ages of 90

Deaths in Australia by sex and age group, 2021

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database; Table S2.1.

While plenty of males in particular are living beyond the age of 69 and 79 – that is, people alive now, not their current expectancy – but also a surprising number of 28% are expected to die before they reach the age of 70. While cures for many diseases such as cancer and heart conditions are improving, everyone should consider what life will be like with earlier health problems. 

Also consider the ‘average’ couple. She is typically two years younger than her husband but lives longer, with a period of dependency. On average, he dies several years before she does and she has often been the carer. She becomes dependent after he dies which is one reason why there are many more women in aged care.

Life expectancy and an aging population

In the 1960s, men lived 14 years less and women 11 years less than now (which in my case, was only 67 years at birth). Remarkably, between 1964 and 2021, the median age at death increased from 68 years to 79 years or 11 years longer, but the vast majority of people now expect to live well beyond 68 years.

(And the world was a vastly different place when Australians born at the beginning of the 20th century had a life expectancy of 51 years for males and 55 for females).

Changes in Australia’s demographics have other surprises. In 1971, people aged 80 years or more made up only 1.4% of the population, but that is now 4.3%. Instead of 188,819 people over 80 in Australia in 1971, there were 1,115,297 in 2022.

Figure 1 shows the increase since 1971 (and I was born in 1957, so that’s 14 years). While the median life expectancy of men is about 80 now, half of them will live beyond 80 and half will die by this age.

Leading causes of death

There are numerous differences in the reason men and women die, with men of coronary heart disease (10,371 (12%) deaths) and women from dementia including Alzheimer’s disease (10,276 (13%) deaths). The chart below shows the five leading categories.

Leading underlying causes of death in Australia, by sex, 2021


Source: AIHW National Mortality Database; Table S3.1.

The leading causes of death also vary by sex and age. For example, chronic diseases feature among people aged 45 and over, while death among younger people up to the age of 44 includes accidents and suicides.

Other implications of ageing and death

Another reason to understand both the ages and causes of deaths is to help to design a better superannuation system. There are an estimated five million Australians in or approaching retirement and drawing down their pensions. Balances and liquidity needs to meet their members' requirements although neither super funds nor SMSFs know when the money will run out.

While many large super funds such as REST and Hostplus can be confident their members will continue as net investors through all their years, other funds will remain in net outflow. Funds need to know the characteristics of their members, especially as many will switch to cheaper ETFs as their balances build.

Despite millions of members, most large super funds do not know their clients. They certainly don’t know the needs of their partners and families, and the problem becomes more acute the older the member. These funds need to understand the potential for longevity, plus know the correct legal treatment when their members die at the age of 65 to 75 and beyond. 

Concluding remarks

This article focusses on the ages at which people die rather than longevity expectations when they are born. How to live longer and how to ensure a retiree does not run out of money are subjects for another day.

Life expectancy statistics from the ABS have a reference period of 2020 to 2022 and were released on 8 November 2023. The next release is 8 November 2024 so the numbers in this article are not as out of date as they may appear.

Thanks to demographer David Williams for his comments on his My Longevity website (www.mylongevity.com.au). And if anyone is offended by the title of the article, deaths in Australia and how long people will live are referenced by the ABS in its reports.

 

Graham Hand is Editor-At-Large for Firstlinks.

 

31 Comments
Michael
June 03, 2024

Good article as usual Graham. You may recall the article I wrote and you published here called "The Financial Life Cycle Paradox" on 27 June 2013. This article is just as relevant today as it was 11 years ago.

Graham
June 04, 2024

Michael, I’ll take another look. That’s a lot of years gone by.

Michael
June 01, 2024

Charles, your comment "Surely the surviving partner in a two member SMSF can retain the super if the trustee is a company?" is only correct in certain circumstances and to a limited extent. It's too involved to explain here.


 


 

John De Ravin
June 02, 2024

The following comment from Cam was a very helpful explanation of the most critical points when one partner passes away leaving their super to the spouse. “ Super can go to the spouse and remain within the super system. The restriction is the survivor can only have up to their Transfer Balance Cap as superannuation pensions. If the surviving spouse is to receive more than their TBC then the rest has to be paid out of super.”


(Note to John De Ravin. Thanks for this elaboration, I have removed my short comment on this point as it is not the purpose of the article. Explaining the treatment fully would bring a new subject into the article. Graham Hand). 

John De Ravin
June 02, 2024

Yes, point taken Graham, thank you. I acknowledge for example that a death benefit can’t be retained in an accumulation account, and also that a BDBN from the deceased spouse may have an impact on what can or can’t be done with the proceeds. So it’s not a completely simple issue.

Jack
June 05, 2024

A superannuation fund is a particular kind of trust. The trustee of a trust has a responsibility to mange the fund on behalf of the beneficiaries of trust but does not own the assets. This is true if the trustee is one or more individuals, or a company. The treatment of a super death benefit is determined by the super (and tax) regulations, not the type of trustee managing the fund.
Because a super fund is not structured as a company, the members of an industry super fund are not shareholders and have no say over the actions of the trustee. In an SMSF, however, all members must be trustees, and all trustees must be members. This ensures the interests of members are in alignment with that of trustees.

Steve
May 31, 2024

There was a very interesting documentary a number of years ago that showed one of the key factors in people who lived to be old (>100) was that they had no kids! Men & women, so not a biological side-effect of giving birth. I can't remember the numbers but something like 5% of the population who had kids lived to 100, but closer to 15% of those with no kids made it! Statistically very significant, and thought provoking! Methinks stress might be involved somewhere.....

Bev
May 31, 2024

Who cares, I'm just happy to wake up every morning and enjoy the day. As long as you have a roof over your head, comfortable bed and food to eat, life is good. Worrying about how long you are going to live is not going to extend your life. Be happy!

Graham W
May 31, 2024

In the 1980"s women got the pension at age 60 and men at age 65. I always thought that as unfair as life expectancy for men at 65 back then was only 5 years . The life expectancy for women at age 60 was 15 years, so 3 times the years possibly getting the pension. Fortunately Vets qualified at age 60 also. At age 75 a new Kawasaki motorbike and new Subaru Outback.

David Williams
May 30, 2024

Great work Graham. You are an inspiration. Thanks for the acknowledgment. Raising longevity awareness is a much stronger imperative than financial literacy in order to make the best of our longevity - the rest of our life. By undertaking simple longevity planning, we better understand our own future including why it may be so and the stages. We can make informed decisions about our potential longevity. This frames our future (and that of our partner) so that health, financial and estate planning are all working from the same basis. As things change, we are then able to adapt our existing longevity plans and re-frame our other decisions. Financial advisers and super funds in particular can now adopt this online, compliance-free process to benefit their clients and members and get to know them much better.

Margaret Gillett
May 30, 2024

Sounds like DIY super is worth keeping so funds can be maintained in the event of one partners death?

Graham
May 31, 2024

Hi Margaret, DIY funds will be help. In the event of a partner's death, their super need to return to non-super. Super is to fund retirement so once a partner is dead, super must be returned.

Cam
May 31, 2024

Correct. As an accountant I've helped a number of people through this process over the years. It may not all be able to be kept in super. Also, it may be better to remove from super, noting that after the 2nd spouse dies there can be tax before independent adult children receive the benefit.

charles
June 01, 2024

Surely the surviving partner in a two member SMSF can retain the super if the trustee is a company?

Robert G,
May 30, 2024

I agree with the good Dr,
Now 77, I'm anticipating falling off my perch at somewhere around 86 - the mid-point of my parents' demise.
The gene pool is pretty good - all hale and hearty, my siblings are 82 (M) 74(F) and 68(F).
When I hit 70, my elder brother welcomed me to the "80 +/- 10" Club.
Forewarned is forearmed I guess, and only time will tell.
Oh, and I've swapped my MG for an MX5.

Ian
May 30, 2024

Evidence shows that a persons expectation of their death age is heavily influenced by the death age of their parents, despite the fact that their parents life expectancy was considerably shorter due to being born in a different era of health outcomes. My father died at 93 and my mother at 70, I guess that means I should die at 82

Peter Vann
June 02, 2024

Ian
Can you please provide a reference to this evidence you quote.
Thanks

John De Ravin
June 02, 2024

Hi Ian,
I agree that mortality is influenced by parental age at death. In response to Peter Vann’s question, a recent article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Longer-Lived Parents and Cardiovascular Outcomes: 8-Year Follow-Up In 186,000 U.K. Biobank Participants, supports your assertion about the relationship between our mortality and our parents’ age at death.
Having said that, though I don’t think you can simply average your parents’ ages at death (especially if one has died a bit young). One reason for that is that you also right when you say that mortality has been steadily improving for a very long time; the improvement has been about one year of life expectancy for every five calendar years that go by, and that alone is a reason why people often underestimate their life expectancy if they focus too much on their parents.
Finally, I have seen it suggested that our mortality, particularly at younger ages, is related more to our own lifestyle than our genetics (I’ve seen “70% lifestyle, 30% genetics”) but that genetics become increasingly important as we get to very advanced ages (say in our 90s).

Lyn
June 03, 2024

Ian & John de Ravin, thanks for info. I too think of mortality re prior generations as predominantly female 3 gens & find interesting. 1st gen not all info re siblings but 2 female in both 1851 and 1911 census so getting up re age for times. 2nd gen born 1871 on in time low expectancy-- 5 female to 90 - 99yrs, 1 male 86, I knew them. All females worked, unusual, professionals to farmers, youngest kept house for others until unmarried & oldest sibling died & lived to 99. Maybe hard work /independence counts. 3rd Gen born 1906 on, 2 of 3 female lived to 90 ( Mum), all professionals/family business and children, unusual. Hard work again. 1 male died 29 (ill). 4th gen 2 females, 1 male died 25 (ill) as prior gen, no progeny from male of 2 generations. Females still cracking on. With the female dominacy often wonder about this subject so perhaps your last sentence John is relevant re genetics though female friend to 85, brother 75 and their mother to 106 with full eysight & hearing in tact to death and own housework and cooking to death. Extraordinary lady, hard work again, schoolteacher & somehow got around not resigning on marriage.

DougC
May 30, 2024

Graham, Thanks for the very interesting article.
Please could you clarify your statement : "many surviving superannuants think money goes to the spouse on death. In fact, superannuation cannot be held by a surviving spouse and must be cashed in or invested within 6 to 12 months of the death."
From the ATO website :
When a person dies, in most cases their super fund pays their remaining super to their nominated beneficiary.
Super paid after a person's death is called a 'super death benefit'.
If a death benefit is paid to a dependant of the deceased, it can be paid as either a lump sum or income stream.

Cam
May 31, 2024

Super can go to the spouse and remain within the super system. The restriction is the survivor can only have up to their Transfer Balance Cap as superannuation pensions. If the surviving spouse is to receive more than their TBC then the rest has to be paid out of super. I expect SMSF members have accountants who can give facts. Otherwise it could be worth getting advice.

Lyn
June 02, 2024

Cam, and very much so if Non-Lapsing binding death nomination for deceased's super to be paid as pension to surviving partner, people need know it stays in super whether SMSF or Retail & talk/understand together as get older plus advice as you say, instead of shock of no control of destination nor other use of capital if a N-L BDN. Though per Graham's reply above not point of article, but apropos article title and penultimate paragraph, super situation at death raised comments by its nature.

John De Ravin
June 02, 2024

Well done DougC on highlighting a sentence with significant potential to mislead. It’s only when the surviving spouse has Transfer Balance Cap issues that the death benefit can’t be retained within the superannuation system.

Dr David Arelette
May 30, 2024

Graham
Thanks for pointing out that you are linked to the year you were born not to the current year - I have given up correcting people who fail to see that if you are now (say) 70 then you have 70 years of wear and tear, past habits now known to be problems (too late brother) and only accessing the new preventative tests now and not back when these diseases could have commenced. What matters most is the family genes (and the breeding choices made for better or worse perhaps 100 years back that you are stuck with), so at 73 I have just traded my Mustang on a Benz AMG, the numbers of deaths from high speed tree collisions seem low so I take that as an indicator.

Dudley
May 30, 2024

Life expectancy by State & Territory, gender and age:
Columns titled 'ex';
https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/life-expectancy/latest-release#data-downloads

Column lx, median (50%) age of survivors: male age 84-85, female 88-89.

Nina
May 30, 2024

Great that you're writing again, Graham. I wonder how many might conclude that the elevated death rates post COVID supports the vaccine injury argument?
Looking forward to your article on how to live longer and how to ensure a retiree does not run out of money!

Cam
May 31, 2024

Nina I believe the virus is active in the community now we're vaccinated, and as a result its killing a lot of older people. The idea is we all got vaccinated which is still saving lives, but a lot of old people with poor health are succumbing to it.

Abel
June 02, 2024

There is evidence that the vaccines caused ill effects or even caused deaths in some people, but they saved many lives. As for the vaccines being the cause of increase in deaths after the pandemic? "A" happening before "B" doesn't mean "A" is the cause of "B". You may as well blame the opening of overseas travel, return to working in the office, the change of government or other events. One sad thing that is more probable is that during Covid, many people skipped going to the doctor or treatment in hospitals due to the fear of Covid and that may have resulted in more deaths later.

Steve W
May 30, 2024

Carpe Diem!

Mart
May 30, 2024

Interesting stuff Graham ... reminds me of the old joke: "I'm really enjoying sex at 75. Well, I only live at 71 so it's not far to walk". I'd certainly pick up on your Super fund comment that "they certainly don’t know the needs of their partners and families, and the problem becomes more acute the older the member". Spot on, but how on earth can the funds know what their countless members want when, to quote the Pythons, we're all individuals ? It's almost impossible. My personal thinking here is funds should act as a well protected / invested 'bucket of money' for members in accumulation phase, and then develop advice / info on a series of 'likely scenarios' when pension / access phase nears or happens (e.g. what happens if you get serious or life threatening illness or injury, what are the implications if your spouse if much younger or older than you, what are the tax implications of your BDBN regarding who you choose to your pot to on passing, what can you do if you have a large amount of funds in Super / pension but your spouse has little, etc etc). I'm sure this info exists within the funds today, but certainly no one from my fund has made me actively aware of it (I'm mid 60s). Surely funds should be pushing this content (or at least the existence of it) to members ? I don't personally feel it's the remit of funds to offer personalised financial advice per member or family, but surely basic 'what happens in this scenario ?' playbooks and comment that is actively made aware to their members would be a good thing ....

June
May 31, 2024

All excellent comments and a very good article. But just commenting (Mart) on Super being left to pass to a beneficiary via a BDBN (Binding Death Benefit Nomination) --- please be careful that you do actually have "Non Lapsing" BDBN's in place -- otherwise your BDBN only lasts three years and then, guess what, lapses, unless you renew it. It's amazing often how this small point is overlooked and things fall through the cracks. I am only commenting on our personal circumstances of course here.

 

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