August 05, 2006
Actuaries Can Not Predict Life Expectancies

British actuaries no longer think they can provide reliable predictions for expected life expectancies.

The Actuarial Profession today announced its adoption of new mortality tables (see Note 1). The tables were produced by the Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) (see Note 2.), a research organisation of the Actuarial Profession. The tables were published in draft form in 2005 (see Note 3.) and minor adjustments were incorporated in the final version to reflect feedback received from actuaries.

Previous sets of tables have incorporated projections of future mortality, but this has not been done with the latest tables because of the uncertainty surrounding future improvements. The CMI has been undertaking significant research into possible methods of projecting mortality. This research is continuing, but it is not currently expected that this work will lead to adoption of a specific projection basis by the Actuarial Profession. Instead the profession is saying that actuaries – and other professionals using mortality projections – should consider a range of scenarios.

There are important financial implications of any improvement in mortality. For pensioners, improved mortality rates (see Note 4.) mean spending longer in retirement and the latest tables show why many commentators have been calling for retirement ages to increase.

Nick Dumbreck, President of the Institute of Actuaries, commented: “Actuaries have always been expected to satisfy themselves that using a mortality table published by the profession is appropriate for the particular purpose to which it is put and this is no different with the latest tables. However the absence of mortality projections in these tables emphasises the need for actuaries to consider the uncertainty surrounding future mortality experience and to explain the financial repercussions of this uncertainty to their employers and clients.”

Pension funds that provide guaranteed benefits until death are in worse financial shape than they know. As the rate of increase in life expectancies starts to accelerate will governments eventually step in with legal changes to relieve the pension funds of some of their liabilties?

The actuaries show a table of dramatic improvements in the odds of dying at ages 65, 75, and 85. The series "92" represents measured death rates in 1991-1994 and the later series "00" represents death rates during 1999-2002.

The following information is repeated from the Press Release of September 2005. Mortality rates are the probability of dying at a given age. Specimen mortality rates (per 1,000) from the new tables (the "00" Series) and the previous tables (the "92" Series) and the implied improvements are shown in the table below:

Age "00" series "92" series Improvement "00" Series "92 Series" Improvement
6512.8518.12 29% 7.41 10.98 33%
75 40.82 54.20 25% 26.42 34.61 24%
85 111.52 131.07 15% 82.48 91.88 10%

The figures quoted are for pensioners insured under life office pension schemes (ie, not individual annuity-type arrangements) who retire at or after normal retirement dates (ie, excluding early retirements, who may be retiring due to ill-health).

Stem cell therapies for heart disease, drugs to stop Alzheimer's plaque build-up, immunotherapies against cancer, and many other coming treatments are going to cause big surges in longevity. Actuaries have no way of knowing when these treatments will come. But they are already seeing big enough changes in longevity to doubt their abilities to predict future life expectancies. The rate of advance for biomedical science and biotechnology is accelerating.

Aubrey de Grey has coined the term ‘actuarial escape velocity’ (AEV) which is the point at which life expectancy goes up faster than 1 year per year. Once we reach AEV your odds of dying in a given year will become less than your odds of dying in the previous year. Aubrey thinks AEV is within reach within a few decades.

The escape velocity cusp is closer than you might guess. Since we are already so long lived, even a 30% increase in healthy life span will give the first beneficiaries of rejuvenation therapies another 20 years—an eternity in science—to benefit from second-generation therapies that would give another 30%, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, if first-generation rejuvenation therapies were universally available and this progress in developing rejuvenation therapy could be indefinitely maintained, these advances would put us beyond AEV.

I share his optimism because I see advances in biotechnology of sorts that mirror the kinds of advances that occur in electronics. Microfluidics devices built using processes similar to those used to build semiconductor computer chips in particular promise to make laboratory science orders of magnitude faster and cheaper. Therefore many biomedical problems will become easily solvable. These advances in biotechnology will enable us to develop the full range of Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) and eventually to reverse the aging process.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 August 05 10:05 PM  Aging Trends

Doug said at August 5, 2006 11:00 PM:

When Leon Kass was listing the manifold reasons why increasing lifespan is a bad thing, I wonder, did he think of the inconveniences posed to statisticians? I wonder, too, whether actuarial escape velocity will be achieved before Kass dies; it'll be comical if he's one of the beneficiaries, and comical if he's not.

aa2 said at August 6, 2006 1:50 AM:

Its quite interesting that already the technology is causing their predictions to be off. I've argued Pfizer's lipitor has been a big life extension drug. And torcetrapib Pfizer's drug in trials which raises HDL, to actually clean out accumulated plaque could be even more so. Lipitor is the biggest selling blockbuster in history. As I think the new paradigm for medicine when they realize to tackle aging is so much more profitable. With arterial plaque buildup everyone needs to fight it eventually. Just as we all have to fight against other symptoms of aging sooner or later. I put the buildup of plaque as Aubrey's external junk. So the market is anyone who reaches that point, who can afford it.

Compare that to a drug that fights a specific disease that most of the population does not get. The market is only a small percentage of the population.

Jake said at August 6, 2006 8:39 AM:

The retirement age is going to have to move up to 70. And/or retirees will have to work part-time during part of their retirement.

It is not healthy, mentally or financially, to be retired 30 years. In fact surveys show that retirees who work part-time are happier than ones who don't.

Robert Schwartz said at August 6, 2006 1:08 PM:

There is no social security crisis.

Rob said at August 6, 2006 2:46 PM:

Randolph Nesse in a book "Why we get Sick" said that statin drugs upped risk of violent and accidental death to the extent that they led to no net increase in life expectancy, is that false?

Bob Badour said at August 6, 2006 3:35 PM:


Perhaps more importantly, why do you think it is true?

MOrpheus said at August 6, 2006 5:07 PM:

Its nice to see that they realize that somthing is hapening beyond what they can predict,

to the extent that they cant predict past 15 years or so,.

Aubrey de Grey will be man of the century, he alredy is for those who know him.

Patrick said at August 6, 2006 7:01 PM:

‘actuarial escape velocity’ (AEV) assumes that the rate of improvement will never drop again. I'm not saying it will, just that there is a hidden assumption in the maths.

Bob Badour said at August 7, 2006 7:02 AM:


Actually, the assumption is weaker than that. The assumption is only that the advances won't stop before we can reverse aging. Once we can actually reverse aging, no further advances are really necessary.

Given that we seem to be in the early stages of exponential advances similar to those in solid-state electronics over the past several decades, expect the increases in life expectancy to go from 3 years to 30 years to 300 years to 3000 years in roughly equal spans of time. If the rate of advance then slows or stops for a few centuries, who cares?

Matthew Cromer said at August 7, 2006 12:57 PM:

"lipitor has been a big life extension drug"

Where is the evidence for this?

From what I have seen, the statin drugs have no net health value when you factor in the side effect profile. . .

Rob said at August 7, 2006 1:48 PM:

Bob, I don't "believe" I just assume that MD's don't lie in their books. I'm young and have low cholesterol, so I never really looked into it, beyond "hey, that's interesting"

aa2 said at August 7, 2006 2:26 PM:


I'll have to look into the studies and see if I can find the information on the statins and increased patient survival. Heart disease is the number one killer in America, so something that can delay death from heart disease in a person with arteries clogged is going to increase life expectancy. Of course my understanding is that the statins slow down the rate of arterial plaque formation. What we really need is to reverse the plaque formation to some degree. Which pfizer has drugs in early stage trials which do that.

T. Williams said at August 8, 2006 6:47 AM:

Could this:
Be what you are referring to by Pfizer's drugs that will reverse plaque formation? It sound like it was just talking about injection of "good" Cholesterol HDL to achieve that end.

dearieme said at August 8, 2006 8:46 AM:

The British government has already announced that the qualifying age to receive Old Age Pension is being increased from 65 to 68. (Mind you, it was 70 when the pension was introduced, back before WWI.)

Bob Badour said at August 8, 2006 10:28 AM:


There is some evidence that tocotrienols already can reverse atherosclerosis.

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