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25TH July 2019

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Squaring the Curve – A Quality Life Right Through the Finish…


Quite a team. Back in the day.

My father sold life insurance. Actually, people said they bought life insurance from Big Art. He didn’t so much sell it.

He did this by asking questions and listening empathetically. How old are you today? Where do you work? Tell me about your family. Does your spouse work? How many kids? Where are they in school. What sports do they play? Do you play with them? What other activities interest you? How much does it cost you to live here? What do you want to be doing later in life? Do you want to retire someday? Where and how? What do you really love about life? And so on and so on. He insisted on doing it at the kitchen table, with life going on all around. That was the point, he was there to structure things that would help your family someday. My wonderful Mom booked the appointments, and they all ended the same way…

“Ok, I’ve got a handle on all your activities, desires and figures. Now tell me, how long do you expect to live?…” Oh. The one question that no one could answer also was the closer. No one knew, so they had to have a plan. And there was Big Art, the New York Life man, ready with a solution.

He answered his own question two years ago last week, a few days short of his 85th birthday. He had more in him, i think, had he not battled a rare blood disease in middle age. It felt like it peeled 10 years off the back end of his life. Most of his siblings (10 of them) passed that mark, and some are still going.  But whether it was 85 or 95 what impressed me about Big Art was how well his health and mind were maintained right up until the day. Visiting grandkids- he had six by the end. Heading to the beach, the pool, the hunting camps, the high school football games and horsing around with, well… everyone. He loved boxing with his grandson as late as six weeks before his final bell rang.

In short, Big Art had squared the curve.

While the maximum life expectancy of his generation had not moved (75 years for his birth in 1932), he had blown 10 years past that date. For me, it is 85 years, and I am hoping to do just the same, for starters.

From Michael Kitces; The graphic above shows experienced and projected survival curves from 1851 through 2031. The trends over time reveal one of the more interesting changes humans are experiencing in survival rates: while there has been some increase in the maximum ages, most of the change over time appears to be a “squaring-of-the-survival-curve” (which is also known as “rectangularization”). Squaring-the-survival-curve refers to the change in shape that results from people living closer to their maximum age without an equivalent increase in their maximum age. In a perfectly squared survival curve, nearly 100% of a population would survive to the maximum human lifespan and then suddenly pass away, forming a “curve” that takes the shape of a right angle (hence, “squaring-the-curve”).

The crucial insight from the phenomenon of squaring-of-the-survival curve is that increasing life expectancy does not necessarily mean increasing lifespans. At some point, we may see many (perhaps even the most!) people living beyond age 100, yet the likelihood of living to 125 may still essentially be zero! That’s not to say that we won’t encounter dramatic breakthroughs that fundamentally change these dynamics—for instance, technology that literally reverses aging—but barring any such technological breakthroughs, there is currently little foreseeable reason to forecast life expectancies beyond 115, even with ongoing medical advances. In other words, rising life expectancies don’t necessarily mean we’re likely eventually be living to age 150 and beyond… it may just be that we’re increasingly likely to all make it right up to a “maximum” age around 115!

We had another important birthday in the family this week, and one gift was a framed Wait but Why Life Calendar. It gives a tidy set of 90 rows of 52 weeks as the norm ( I guess their target audience was born in the 1990’s). I highly recommend filling it in, both looking back and looking forward, if you want to answer some of Big Art’s big questions.

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