Mortality Trends

Al Klein

“Will you live longer?” is an interesting question. U.S. population mortality began to increase and life expectancy decreased in 2015,1 for the first time in decades. This was driven by increases in almost all causes of death besides cancer. The deterioration in mortality continued in 2016 and 2017, while preliminary results for 2018 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) appear to indicate an improvement in mortality and life expectancy again. It is difficult to say the direction mortality will take in the future. It depends on a number of factors, such as the environment and medical advances.

This deterioration in mortality was not seen in U.S. life insurance industry experience over the same period of time, but it was seen in the population of other countries beginning in 2015. Some European countries saw a slowing of mortality improvement, while others saw a deterioration in mortality.2

There are different theories as to why we have seen this deterioration in U.S. mortality. These theories include:

  • Case and Deaton3 believe this is due to “deaths of despair” among the white working class. More specifically, middle-age, less-educated, low-income, non-Hispanic whites died from chronic pain, obesity, stress, and alcohol and drug addiction.
  • Masters, Tilstra and Simon 4 believe this is due to increases in metabolic diseases and drug use, and the start of the effects of obesity.
  • Auerbach and Gelman5 believe this is due to higher mortality from non-Hispanic white women, generally from the South.

I believe these theories all have elements of truth. However, more important, they all show a widening differential in mortality among different groups of people. Which brings me back to the question: Will you live longer?

In addition to reading the entirety of this article, I recommend reading the book The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. Dan and his colleagues found four places around the world where more people than average live to beyond 100. They studied those regions, which all had completely different cultures, and found nine “reasons” for this longer life. One of those reasons is to have a purpose in life. I encourage you to read more.

Al Klein, FSA, MAAA, is a principal and consulting actuary.

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