I met this morning with Shayne Connolly, my personable life insurance broker. While reviewing our coverage he scrolled by the section of the PDF that had my actuarial age at death as 84.
It wasn’t so much that this was news to me as how casually it floated by.
According to the US Social Security actuarial tables, my probability of dying in the next year is 0.65%. By the time I’m 84 it goes up to 8%. If I live to 119, I’ll have an 88% probability of being dead with a year.
In this, as in all things statistical, the words of the late Stephen Jay Gould in The Median Isn’t the Message are helpful:
We still carry the historical baggage of a Platonic heritage that seeks sharp essences and definite boundaries. (Thus we hope to find an unambiguous “beginning of life” or “definition of death,” although nature often comes to us as irreducible continua.) This Platonic heritage, with its emphasis in clear distinctions and separated immutable entities, leads us to view statistical measures of central tendency wrongly, indeed opposite to the appropriate interpretation in our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua. In short, we view means and medians as the hard “realities,” and the variation that permits their calculation as a set of transient and imperfect measurements of this hidden essence. If the median is the reality and variation around the median just a device for its calculation, the “I will probably be dead in eight months” may pass as a reasonable interpretation.