Old age expectations are related to how long people want to live

  • C.E. Bowen C.E. Bowen
  • V. Skirbekk V. Skirbekk

How long do people want to live? Why do some people want to live a very long time, and others would rather die relatively young? In the current study we examine the extent to which the preference to die young (<80 years, less than average life expectancy) or to live somewhat longer or much longer than average life expectancy (90-99 years or 100+ years, respectively) is related to a person’s positive and negative expectations of what their life will be like in old age. We use multinomial regression analysis based on survey data from a large sample of younger and middle-aged adults in the United States of America (USA) (N = 1,631, age 18-64 years). We statistically control for socio-demographic characteristics as well as self-reported happiness and health. We find that having fewer positive expectations for their own old age distinguishes people who prefer to die relatively young, while having fewer negative expectations distinguishes people who want to live beyond current levels of life expectancy. The results provide evidence that pessimistic expectations of life in old age can undermine the desire to live up to and beyond current average life expectancy. The study also provides descriptive data about how young and middle-aged adults in the USA anticipate their own ageing.

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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