Predicting Your Own Life Expectancy

Online calculators estimate how many retirement years you should plan for.

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One of the biggest retirement challenges is figuring out how many years of retirement you need to plan for. A man currently age 65 can expect to live, on average, until age 83 and the average 65-year-old women will live until 85, according to Social Security Administration data.

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The problem with depending on averages, of course, is that some people will live significantly longer than average. About one out of every four 65-year-olds will live past age 90 and one out of ten will live past age 95, SSA found.

Life expectancy also changes throughout your lifetime. A 50-year-old man born on July 1, 1960 currently has a life expectancy of 81, according to the SSA’s new life expectancy calculator, released last week. Once he makes it to age 67 his live expectancy grows to 84.4 years and if he hits 70 the average life expectancy is 85.3 years.

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These numbers also don’t take into account your current health, lifestyle, and family history, all of which could increase or decrease the number of years you can expect to live. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician at Boston University medical school who studies centenarians, developed a much more detailed life expectancy calculator at livingto100.com. This calculator takes into account everything from your stress level to your sleep habits and gives you the exact age it predicts you will live to.

Other calculators take a more graduated approach to predicting age. Dean Foster, a professor of statistics as the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, developed a calculator that considers information including your occupation and the types of food you consume and gives you a range of ages when you might die. For example, the calculator might tell you there is a 50:50 chance that you will die between ages 72 to 88. But that also means that a quarter of the time you won’t make it to 72 and there’s a 25 percent chance you will live past age 88.

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“Living in a first world country with good health care and high incomes and good education is by far the biggest predictor of length of life,” says Foster. Being a nonsmoker is also likely to lengthen your life, but not as much as you might think. Says Foster: “Smoking changes [life expectancy] by a year or two.”