Monday, December 17, 2012

A bit of folk actuary

kw: analysis, life span, economists

I am reading a book about economics that includes mini-biographies of about 100 economists whose work made a difference. I decided to use some of them to analyze the life span of "productive people", because economics is one discipline in which someone can be productive for many years. This chart is based on the lives of 54 economists from the early 1500s on, who have died. For those still living, I don't have a crystal ball to determine their life span!


The black trend line is only marginally useful. There are too few data prior to 1700, and the 80-year life of Fran├žois Quesnay (1694-1774) may not be as exceptional as it seems. However, it is interesting to speculate that the steep trend of the upper envelope for those born in 1775 and later might be meaningful. It coincides with the industrial and economic revolutions that have transformed Western society since the 1770s. It may be that surprisingly large numbers of those born in 1950 or thereabouts (my generation) could live until 2050 or later. Some studies indicate that centenarians are the fastest-growing segment of the population, in proportion to earlier times.

Life is a Tetris game. You fend off dangers for decade after decade, until something "gets" you. From one viewpoint, death is a rare event: there is only one per person! Productive people seem to live the longest, so having a vocation is one way to lengthen the Tetris game. In the 1930s, Social Security was set up on the premise that an average 65-year-old had 3-4 years to live. These days, the average is closer to 20 years. Plus, many folks prefer to retire between 55 and 62. Totally retiring is a great way to lose at Tetris sooner, but those who embark on a further productive phase of their lives might live in "retirement" for 30-40 years or more. Do plan accordingly.

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