Men and highly educated women pessimistic about their own life expectancy

Despite positive figures about rising life expectancy, many older workers (64-67 years) are not convinced that they themselves will live longer. Between 1999 and 2016, men in particular did not become more optimistic about the remaining years after retirement. Women on the other hand, generally expect to live longer. Surprisingly, higher education and better cognitive functioning appear to dampen this effect. The self-perceived life expectancy has an impact on the intention to work longer. Women who expect to live longer also want to work longer. This does not apply to men.

Researchers from AUMC, NIDI and RUG write this in a Netspar report on “subjective life expectancy”. The researchers looked at whether the increase in actuarial life expectancy between 1999 and 2016 led to a personal – and proportional – expectation of people to live longer. The study shows that this is not the case for everyone. Men aged 64-67 do not feel they have a higher life expectancy in 2016 than in 1999, but women aged 64-67 do. In addition to a higher level of education and better cognitive abilities, poor self-reported health (men) and the presence of chronic diseases (women) also have a negative effect on the self-perceived life expectancy.

The fact that men do not associate a longer actuarial life expectancy with working longer can be seen as a warning sign. They may consider working longer to be an unfair requirement. This prospect can have a negative impact on productivity during the last working years and on the financing of old age. Changing the perception to a more realistic picture is a challenge. In their view of their own life expectancy, research shows that people are more likely to be guided by experiences and stories from their environment than by objective figures. It may be worthwhile to ‘personalize’ messages about the remaining life expectancy by providing the information in the context of, for example, the education or gender of the target group.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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