Retirement Planning: How Long Will You Live?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A generation ago, it was rare for anyone to live to 100 years of age. But now when a couple reaches 65, there is a 10% chance that at least one of the partners will live to 100, according to recent data from the Society of Actuaries. There is a 1% chance that one partner will reach 107.

The gains in life expectancy present a challenge for anyone who is developing a retirement plan. To maintain comfortable living standards, retirees may require savings that can cover expenses for four decades. But many planners fail to consider the new data on life expectancy.

Instead, people in their 60s plan for retirements of 10 or 20 years.

"Most consumers underestimate their life expectancies," says Angela DiCastri, assistant director of personal retirement markets for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance.

Part of the reason for the underestimates is that the numbers have been changing rapidly. For newborn American males, life expectancy has been increasing by two years every decade, according to the Society of Actuaries.

Although the life expectancy of a man born in 1960 is 66, the figure climbed to 75 for someone born in 2010. Keep in mind that those figures represent median expectancies. Half of all recently born babies will live past 75.

Also be aware that the life expectancy data reflect the outlook for newborns. Anyone who survives the hazards of childhood is likely to live much longer. A female who has reached 65 has a 50% chance of living to 88 and a 10% chance of reaching 98.

How long will you live? To develop a forecast, you can check one of the many online calculators that have been developed by financial planners and insurance companies.

To prepare an estimate on a typical Web site, you answer questions about your family history, diet, and exercise habits.

One of the more intriguing calculators is run by Lyle Ungar, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. To use his calculator, you answer a series of questions, including whether any of your relatives had heart disease and how many miles a year you drive.

To design his questionnaire, Ungar reviewed scientific literature on how different factors affect life expectancy. He found that smoking one cigarette reduces life expectancy by five minutes. People with more education live longer.

In addition, you can extend your life by taking safety precautions, such as using seatbelts and bicycle helmets. But according to the data, some common practices don't necessarily increase life expectancy.

"For a normal person, vitamins don't extend life expectancy at all," Ungar says. "Organic foods may be virtuous, but there is no scientific evidence that people who eat organic foods live longer."

The case for exercise is strong. For every hour of exercise, you live two hours longer. But it is not clear what type of exercise is best.

"If you exercise for a few hours a week, it makes a big difference," Ungar says. "How you do it doesn't really matter. Nobody knows whether running faster or walking slower makes a real difference."

How reliable are the online calculators? The calculators are new, so there is little evidence about their long-term accuracy.

Ungar says that his site can be used for rough guidance. His calculator provides a range of expectations.

For a 60-year-old nonsmoking male who occasionally exercises, there is a 75% chance of living past 79 and a 25% chance of living longer than 94. So to be on the safe side, the retiree should plan on living well into his 90s.

Someone with long-lived parents should consider the possibility of living past 100. To support such a long retirement, retirees must build well diversified investment portfolios -- and tap them according to a disciplined plan.

Stan Luxenberg is a freelance writer specializing in mutual funds and investing. He was executive editor of Individual Investor magazine.

More from Retirement

Video: When Planning for Retirement, Don't Underestimate Your Life Span

Video: When Planning for Retirement, Don't Underestimate Your Life Span

7 Ways Your Financial Adviser Should Help You Survive Rising Interest Rates

7 Ways Your Financial Adviser Should Help You Survive Rising Interest Rates

4 Critical Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor

4 Critical Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor

Nearly 50% of Americans Concerned They Won't Have Enough Money in Retirement

Nearly 50% of Americans Concerned They Won't Have Enough Money in Retirement

From Football to Finance: NFL Hall of Famer Mike Haynes Has Some Advice For You

From Football to Finance: NFL Hall of Famer Mike Haynes Has Some Advice For You