Thursday, August 9, 2012

Turning 58: Lies, Damned Lies, And Actuarial Tables

Mark Twain once wrote:
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
Cupcakes for my 58th birthday.
Today I can appreciate these words, for I celebrated my 58th birthday today.  Diane made Devil's food cupcakes with buttercream frosting, my favorite.  So, I got to wondering about how many more birthdays I can expect?

According to the U.S. government actuarial tables, I can expect 27 more years on this planet, then I reach my expiration date at age 85.

Actually, that estimate is from an IRS publication for calculating annuities.  Let's look at some others actuarial tables to tell me how long I have left...

  • A 2007 Social Security Administration table predicted that I, at age 53 then, would live 26.5 years, to age 79.5.
  • The Office of State Actuary for Washington figures that I have 23 years left (age 81).  The same age as I am (we went to high school together), a female friend of mine just retired from Washington State last week and, being a woman, they think she will outlive me by 3 more years.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates I would live to be 74.3 if I lived in Ethiopia, but would live to age 84.4 if I lived in Sweden.  I guess the cold air preserves you better than the hot desert air.

So, life expectancy or mortality rates vary not only by sex, but vary greatly depending upon where you live (your country of origin), your race, and whether or not you smoke or are married, to name a few major variables.  (Johnny Carson once joked , “Married men live longer than single men. But married men are a lot more willing to die.”  What an awful thing to say!)

These statistics do not take into account your genetics or personal health practices either.  My parents both died at 72, but they smoked, didn't exercise, and had no personal interests, like hobbies.  I have an uncle, though, who has lived a healthy lifestyle and is in now his 90's, so at least some longevity may run in the family, I hope.

But, what is missing?  I really think it is attitude about life.  People tell me "You don't look 58!", and I think to myself "What does 58 look like, anyway?"  I see people out in public and try to guess their age, and it is hard to do.  I have seen some folks in their 60's look like they are just waiting for the Lord to take them any day now, while other people who are far older don't look or act their age, whatever that means.

Pete Seeger, age 93, appearing this week on the Colbert 
Report.  Seeger is an American folk singer whose songs 
were responsible for the revival of folk music in the 
mid 20th century.  He may also be a good model for
increasing your longevity.
My wife and I were watching Stephen Colbert the other night and his guest was the great folk singer and activist Pete Seeger.  Seeger, who wrote or co-wrote such great songs as "Where have all the flowers gone?", "If I had a hammer", and "Turn, turn, turn",  is 93 years old but, in my opinion, doesn't "look it" at all.

He played the banjo and dodged Colbert's silly interview questions with wit and style.  Despite a pretty tough life throughout much of his career, he looked good.  When Colbert asked him about how he stayed healthy, he simply said that he lived in the country where the air was fresh, and he chopped wood with his axe for exercise.

So, Seeger may actually be onto something.  Exercise and purpose.  Perhaps he has lived so long because he still has something to look forward to every day.  Performing.  Writing a book.  Contributing to the betterment of the world. Not too shabby.

Should we trust actuarial tables?  They have their purpose for underwriting life insurance policies and such, but they can't predict anything about an individual's lifespan.  For example,  where does wood chopping factor into actuarial tables?  How about living a life of purpose?  Fresh country air and a healthy lifestyle?  I thought so.

I may just ignore my expiration date when it comes along.

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