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How long are you really likely to live?

Longevity is among the more predictable of the major change agents affecting developed societies. Yet ignorance, perhaps a sense of complacency plus a reluctance to engage on a personal basis inhibit a holistic approach to dealing with this challenge – and its opportunities.

Life expectancies continue to increase more than forecast, but this is not new. The table below shows that longevity increases have been taking place for over two centuries in developed countries. Numbers from 1906 onwards are for Australia.


Impact on longevity

Life expectancy at birth (average in years)

Pre 1800

Very little



Reduced infections, disease transmission etc.



Antibiotics and a focus on personal systemic problems (cancers, heart disease, strokes etc.)



Continuing medical advances



Focus on brain?

Over 100? 120?

(* Males 80 years, Females 84 years. Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Gender Indicators, January 2013).

The increase over the last ten years suggests we still have some way to go. The last century saw a focus on helping babies survive early years, followed by the development of antibiotics and then progressively attacking mid-life problems, including the consequences of smoking. The century ended with an increasing ability to intervene in older age challenges, including mobility and support for independence. Success with DNA mapping underpins growing confidence in earlier diagnosis and treatment of illnesses.

The next big challenges will come from the brain. Building on remarkable developments over the past ten years or so, success in dealing with brain decline will make projections of life expectancy even more challenging. Could baby life expectancy reach 120 or more by the turn of this century? Too early to say but the straws in the wind are blowing that way.

What about you?

Understanding about the community at large is important, but what about you? In an increasingly complex world, is there any way you can plot your personal path with enough confidence to commit to your planning decisions?

The following graph shows expected death rates in five-year intervals for a person aged 65 as predicted by the Australian life tables. For example, about 5% of 65-year-olds are expected to die before they reach the age of 69, while over 10% are expected to die between the ages of 95 and 99 and about 5% over 100.



Source: Australian Life Tables

Just over 20% of 65-year-olds are expected to die in the five-year group containing the current average, which means nearly 80% won’t. So for the majority, the life tables are not really helpful. We need to do better than this to give people more information about their own longevity.

The 1980’s saw the start of longitudinal studies looking to answer why some people live longer than others (and many other things about longevity). These studies follow the same people over many years. By the early 2000’s they were revealing much more about who died, who survived and what made the difference. Using this data in conjuction with the life tables can help individuals to position their own lifespan better within their age group.

As well as giving a sense of personal lifespan, this work helps to reveal why a person may be different from average. People can now make better informed decisions about what they might do to influence their own remaining time frame. It’s also becoming clear that the factors that influence longevity are also likely to influence quality of life.

People can already better understand and take more control over their remaining lives. The website at has a free life expectancy calculator which helps people in taking this step. While there’s a long way to go, we can now begin to answer ‘what about me?’

Where is this leading us?

At the personal level, knowing more about your personal longevity has exciting implications for financial, medical and even career advice. Understanding your possible personal time frame invites stronger commitment to decisions about finance (how much money might you really need), health (you can target the things you need to live both well and longer) and career (how long will you seek to maintain the value of your capabilities and experience). Personal time frame considerations underpin all these dialogues.

At the community level, greater longevity awareness provides a context for dealing with the challenges an increasingly older community is creating. Increasing longevity is already changing Australian society. Greater personal longevity awareness will enable us collectively and individually to stay ahead of (and change the rules of) the game.


David Williams began longevity research in 1986 and was a Director with RetireInvest and CEO of Bridges. He chaired the Standards Australia Committee on Personal Financial Planning. David founded My Longevity Pty Limited in 2008, and his free website at has provided more than 65,000 personal profiles online. 

February 24, 2014

When most people left school and commenced work at 15 the aged pension commenced at 65 for males. They worked for 50 years to accumulate sufficient to survive on the lifestyle they were used to when working. Further the average person lived only 10 or 15 years past pension age.

Now many people do not enter the workforce until 20 to 25, have time out for family reasons and most enjoy an increasing beneficial lifestyle. Nowadays no one wants to have a large drop in their standard of living just because they retire.
To accumulate sufficient funds means that the average person with have to contribute to their retirement nest egg, and therefore keep working for at least 50 years, and so the aged pension age and age for accessing superannuation will be 70 - 75 years of age.
If the average age extends past 90 then accumulated pension/superannuation amounts are unlikely to be enough, and the aged pension will have to be funded from recurrent expenditure even more than now.

it would be better to increase the mandatory superannuation contribution now to say 20%, and use the funds to build needed infrastructure, employ the upcoming generation and provide income for our, and their retirement.

Being forced to save more for old age means less disposable income now and housing prices should fall due due reduced aggregate demand, although probably mortgages will extend to 40 years.

Cranky Pants
February 22, 2014

As long as quality of life is maintained, living longer and longer on average is the most wonderful problem in the world. Unfortunately this is most often not the case - people alive in their 80s and 90s who have significantly diminished faculties, are sick and frail etc. for those who have to face this terrible problem, this is not what people mean when they talk about living in retirement.

Longevity shocks have another very important implication: the need to fund ever-longer periods of retirement. Another five years of life for example means people have to generate about another 30% on average for their retirement balances. Given so few Australians already save for a modest retirement, this is a funding gap that will never be closed.

And everyone must now be explicitly aware of the increasing age at which you will receive the Age Pension - already it is 67 from 2023 and if you take Joe Hockey seriously it may be 70 by say 2035. And an increased in the preservation age to say 70 is also on the way.

For someone who is in their early 40s now expecting to take their money at age 60 and get a pension at age 67, you may not be able to do either, instead having to wait until 65 or 70 to get your super.

We will have a nation of "zombie workers" aged over 60 who will struggle to find work and can't use their super or get the Age Pension. The NDIS is going to get a hammering as a result.

Roewen Wishart
February 21, 2014

In fact, diseases of the brain and nervous system are already the largest single "burden of disease" when measured in disability life-years - that is, both their impact economically, in addition to the human cost for people and their families.

Readers might be interested to view the specific life expectancy tables for their precise age and gender - free on the ABS website - catalogue 3302.0.55.001

NeuRA (Neuroscience Research Australia), where I work, has scientists doing exciting work to positively change people's lives to discover disease causes and investigate cures.

grant jagelman
February 21, 2014

Interestingly your life expectancy increases significantly when you reach the ages of 65, 70 etc

David Williams
February 21, 2014

This really calls for a whole article in itself! It's called the 'survival bonus'. In effect, the longer you live, the longer you are likely to live. It doesn't start to show up until about age 45. The expected 'bonus' increases over each decade you survive. If you get to 85, your overall life expectancy has increased on average by ten years for males (to 91) and seven years for females (to 92).

Why is it different between genders? Well, that's another article.....


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