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Your number's up

14 March 2013
Reading time: 3 minutes


Posted by Tom Hartmann , 0 Comments

My late grandfather-in-law, who reached the very respectable age of 99, was a retired solicitor and could be remarkably astute. A couple of years before his passing, I remember him walking with some difficulty along the hall in the afternoon – perhaps to listen to the cricket on the radio or sip a much-anticipated glass of Scotch – mumbling under his breath:

‘No time off for good behaviour…’

We’re living longer than ever these days, a fact that has surprised experts in recent years, and just how high the trend will go is debatable. What is sure, however, is that most of us tend to underestimate how long we will live.

It’s quite difficult to picture an older version of ourselves. Just try to write a letter to yourself in the future. I find it a bit hard to imagine – almost like science fiction.

But if you had to guess, what would your number be? Take a stab at it. Since we generally forget that life expectancy continues to improve, surveys show that women tend to underestimate their life spans by more than seven years and men by more than five. So try adding that to your guesstimate and see what you think.

Based on the most recent cohort life tables from Statistics New Zealand, which were just updated last week, we can all calculate the latest estimates of how long we will live. Have a look at their How long will I live? spreadsheet.

Looks like my expected life span is 88.3 years (taking the optimistic end of the range that experts believe is realistic). How does yours look? And how does it compare to your guess above?

You can enter your number when you use Sorted’s KiwiSaver savings calculator and retirement planner These tools only provide a general average when estimating your longevity, so using your personal Stats NZ figure will get you a more precise result. (I moved mine up from 87 years.)

Even the general numbers can surprise our Sorted users. In January, for example, one wrote in saying he couldn’t believe how his life span could have jumped so much, although it had. Stats NZ review their life span estimates every so often, so it's one of those planning things that you can't just set and forget. He discovered that his previous retirement plans had come up short and, without some adjustments here and there, he would run out of money.

‘Did my life expectancy really increase by five years since April?’ he wrote. ‘Great news, except that I found I couldn't really afford it.’

Overall, the fact that we’re living progressively longer is a good news story. (Hopefully that means we’re living better, too!) For each additional year we live, we push out our expected age at death even further.

What this also means, however, is that it’s going to take a fair bit of planning to figure out how to fund our retirements.

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