Are you a survival pessimist?

I’m a survival pessimist. Both my parents died around age 70. I am a breast cancer survivor (first diagnosed in 2013). I’m age 69 and would be surprised if I live another 10 years. On the other hand, I work out almost every day and one of my cousins has survived breast cancer for at least 25 years. So I could surprise myself and live till 90, like my mother’s older sister.

Apparently, survival pessimism is a thing. If I knew exactly how long I had to live I could plan my investments and expenses to be exactly zero on my date of death. But obviously I don’t so I have to be thrifty to avoid outliving my investments. DH and I both have long-term care insurance but that’s only partial coverage for the potential slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

You Might Live Longer Than You Think. Your Finances Might Not.

Financial planning tends to overlook longevity, a factor that can far exceed life expectancy

By Josh Zumbrun, The Wall Street Journal, Updated Feb. 10, 2023

The good news is that many Americans live a lot longer than they expect. The bad news is that this often leads to financial regret as they realize, sometimes too late, they might have claimed Social Security too early, passed up the opportunity to buy annuities or long-term-care insurance, or simply undersaved for all those added years of retirement…

What matters for most people is the life expectancy and longevity risk of their specific age group going forward. (If you’re 65, the death rates of people ages 0 to 64 are no longer part of your calculation.)…

In the Michigan State University Health and Retirement Study people systematically understated their chances of living to 75 by 10% or more. For example, one year the 65-year-olds gave themselves a 67% chance of living 10 more years, but 78% were still around to take the survey 10 years later. Cormac O’Dea of Yale University and David Sturrock of University College London in a recent paper call this phenomenon “survival pessimism.”…[end quote]

Both the Social Security Administration and the IRS have life expectancy tables. The National Academy of Sciences found large longevity gaps based on income. Among men born in 1960, those in the top income quintile could expect to live 12.7 years longer at age 50 than men in the bottom income quintile. This NAS study finds similar patterns for women: the life expectancy gap at age 50 between the bottom and top income quintiles of women was 13.6 years for the 1960 birth cohort.

Also see Life Expectancy for CP, VS, TBI and SCI

The WSJ article points out that many tables report an average life expectancy. Longevity risk is different – it’s the probability of living to a much older age than average. A man in excellent health born in 1950 has a median life expectancy of 88, but a 25% chance of living until 94 and a 10% chance of living until 98.



This is not hard. Just look yourself up on the Death Clock. It will tell you almost exactly when you are going to die.



I’m sort of the opposite. I am concerned about living a long time. I was, I thought, justifiably concerned because I was by all outward signs, healthy as a horse. Worked out. Mowed my own lawn. Actually enjoyed shoveling snow. 5’10" 160 lbs. Low BP/slow heart rate. The doctors loved it. Then just before I turned 63 had a massive heart attack. Now have a pacemaker and defibrillator in my chest. Doctors cannot give me all the meds they’d usually prescribe in my case because of the low BP. Otherwise, except for no more heavy lifting, running, or heavy duty straining (like most 66 year olds, I guess) I feel fine.

My mother had a big heart attack & triple bypass at 70. She had a bunch of other health problems and was diabetic when I was still in high school. She lived till 88.

If I were to accept a reasonable lifespan to be about 10 more years my net worth would skyrocket! I could spend like a drunken sailor. But I have to cover the worst case and assume I don’t die early.

This is why group retirement benefits (think pensions, social security, etc.) SHOULD be easier to plan and administer, if you pay attention to the actuarials. Doing this analysis on a population is much more accurate than on an individual basis. The problem is, of course, people don’t pay enough attention to what the mathematicians say.

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The age old balancing act, plan like you will live to 100 but live/enjoy like today is your last.

I would call myself a survival realist, I"ve seen too much over my career. Genetically I have a strong chance of living to my mid 90s but I could be killed by a drunk/texting driver tomorrow.


Thanks for the link, Goofy.
The Death Clock tells me that if I’ll start drinking just 2 alcohol drinks per month I can reliably 5x my current annual spending.

If I start smoking, I can 15x my annual spending. (But I gotta keep drinking.)

And, I’ll still leave a little for the heirs. It’ll be close, though.
ralph. Off to the liquor store.
It’s Carnival time.


My maternal grandfather, who looked a lot like me, lived to be about 96. I have ambitions of cracking 100. I don’t even want to think about my father’s family. Most of them died before 60.

Steve…at present, burning about 1/3rd of inbound cash flow per year.

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You will live to be 84 years, 3 months and 23 days old!

Goofy it is off by anywhere from zero to 18 years. Odds are it is off by about ten years. There are no questions about my family history. We have very little cancer and very few heart conditions. My parents are 84 and 83 and doing quite well for their age. I am far more active than most 60 year olds. My biggest health problem was at birth. I have not really had any major health problems otherwise. Yes I am diabetic but I took off about 75% of the weight I need to lose. I do not need to be treated as a diabetic.

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In our case it depends. I just turned 79 and my boss is 76. One day I’ll tell her I plan to live another 15 years and then a day later I tell her I might make it another 5 years. We both laugh and go on with our day. I had cancer and chemo at age 56 so I’ve survived another 23 years.

As far as the investments go I guess we are lucky because the year end balances always seem to go up rather than down. I guess the 4% rule has something going for it. Now whether or not I’ll be saying that when I turn 100 is another story.

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According to the calculator, I died 3 years ago.

My best friend is Cole Sear. Should I be worried?


There was a time when I wondered if I would see 2000. We have seen one fifth of the first century of the second millennium of the CE. Carpe diem!

The Captain

BTW, at the end of December 1999 I tied by boat to a dock to ward off the Y2K (USA) or Millennium (GB) bug.

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Very partial. A close friend broke his femur (right near his hip replacement lower part) and was in the hospital for a week including surgery to repair it. He’s 96, and started using his LTC policy a few months earlier and just finished the 90-day exclusion period, so he’s getting up to $150/day coverage now. His wife (93) just started her 90-day exclusion period, but sadly passed away last week. Anyway, $150 only covers 6 hours/day, and even with the planned $150 from her policy, combined would only cover 12 hours/day. But they, now only he, need 24 hrs/day at this point. Right now, he’s paying about $600/day to cover the remaining 18 hours (there are higher rates after a certain number of base hours), and that can’t last “forever”. He’s probably going to sell his house and move to assisted living (or more) very soon.


Excellent point and probably deserves more attention as a policy bullet point.

The larger the group, the lower the error for actuarial predictions because more individuals in the group increases sample size which reduces statistical error.