What is a Lifespan Calculator and Why is it Important?


When I hear the phrase “Lifespan Calculator,” I envision palm readers, crystal balls and hocus pocus.  After all, no one knows how long anyone is going to live.  Right?  Right.  However, after trying a few of these calculators, I admit to being impressed.  Why?  Because, although they were developed independently, they yielded very similar results.

The three calculators I tried are . . .

1.  This calculator, entitled “How Long Will You Live?”, was developed by Dean P. Foster (a statistical guru and teacher at University of Pennsylvania) and two associates.  Foster’s site offers two life calculators: a short form calculator (less than one minute) which is useful for financial planning, and a longer version calculator (about five minutes) designed to help users explore health options they can control.

My results?  I tried the longer version, which predicted my lifespan to be 89.5 years.

2.  Living to 100 calculator was developed by Dr. Thomas Perls, who explains the purpose of his calculator “is to be an educational tool and to teach people that their day to day health related habits have a dramatic impact not just on how long they will live but how well they live.”  You should know that you must “sign up (for free)” before your results are presented.

My results?  This calculator tells me I should live to age 92.

3.  Northwestern Mutual (which offers financial services such as long term health care), developed the Lifespan Calculator using an interview format which updates your projected lifespan with each question answered (kind of like tax software which updates your refund with each answer).  I appreciated how this calculator allowed me to go back, change answers and learn how those changes affect my anticipated lifespan.  For example, exercising 30 minutes 4 days a week bumped my lifespan number up two years.

My results?  A forecasted age of 93.

By the way, I am currently a healthy 65 year old with a family history of good health.

Although I realize that these are only best guess estimates, I also realize that an educated guess can be valuable.  Here are some ways:

1. It will help you make retirement decisions.

  • How long should you continue to work?  Thinking in terms of your projected lifespan instead of an arbitrary retirement age could affect that decision.
  • When should you start your Social Security benefit?  (Hint:  if you are going to live longer than age 78, you should wait until full retirement age).
  • What will you do with yourself during your retirement years?  If you are going to live for 25 or 30 years after you retire, you need to be making plans for those years ahead of time.  Lazing around is not a good long term plan.

2. It will help with your overall health.

While you can’t do anything about the genes you were born with, you can control your diet, your exercise regimen and learn how to better deal with stress.  Such measures will not only help you live longer, but will also enhance the quality of your latter years.  Besides, better health means fewer health expenses . . . a huge factor for seniors.

3. It helps us realize that life here on planet Earth is finite.

A taste of existential anxiety can be a healthy eye opener.  Inputting the data and then seeing a projected lifespan affected me more deeply than I expected.  My first reaction was surprise that I should realistically be here for another 25 years.  My second reaction was anxiety that my days are definitely numbered.  My third reaction?  An aroused responsibility to not waste these years.  “What,” I have been asking myself, “will I do with the next 25 or 30 years?”

Hopefully, I will use them wisely.

Readers:  Have you ever tried a lifespan calculator?  If so, what did you learn?  If not, why not?  Leave a comment below!

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  1. Josh

    Great post. Like you, this calculator had a big affect on my thought processes. It also gives us some focus and clarity when we take it seriously.

  2. Tim Ponticel

    I find it interesting that the different calculators came up with fairly similar numbers for you. I had no idea that calculators like this existed. Thanks for sharing. I plan to give these a shot to see what kind of numbers I come up with.