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Survey reveals people’s perceptions of life-expectancy


People’s perceptions of their own life expectancy can be linked to their decision on whether or not to invest in a pension, a study led by Nottingham University Business School has revealed.

Nottingham University Business School’s Centre for Risk & Insurance Studies commissioned MORI to conduct a wide ranging public opinion survey of 3,966 adults aged over 16 years across Great Britain covering various aspects of public perceptions of mortality such as general level of health, smoking prevalence, alcohol consumption, and life expectancy.

Analysis of this MORI survey, conducted by Nottingham University Business School, shows that, on average, people tend to underestimate how long they are likely to live by more than five years . A research project*, carried out by the Business School’s Centre for Risk and Insurance Studies, draws some conclusions based on MORI’s results. In particular they found that individual pension provision would be boosted by 50 per cent if people understood the age to which people should expect to live.

The study also looked at people’s expectations of longevity based on health issues such as smoking and alcohol consumption. For example, those with a modest alcohol consumption expect to live longer than teetotallers or heavy drinkers. However, those surveyed were not always accurate — the actual risks to smokers are significantly greater than they believed and former smokers failed to recognise that they should expect to live less long than those who have never smoked.

The analysis also highlights a link between the answers given for how long people expect to live compared to how long they expect others of the same age and sex to live. Specifically, people in ill-health give lower answers for how long they expect the population to live compared to those in excellent health. Smokers also tend to believe that the population as a whole lives less long.

The analysis of the results was carried out by Chris O’Brien and Professors Paul Fenn and Stephen Diacon and received financial support from the actuarial profession. Chris O’Brien, Director of the Centre for Risk and Insurance Studies, said: "The research suggests that people may not realise how valuable pensions are. "Insurers may wish to consider developing a way of stressing the value-for-money of annuities they offer, and employers could use data on life expectancy to highlight the value of pensions they are providing.

"Educating people on life expectancy is important in helping people make decisions about pensions products. Perhaps the Financial Services Authority has a role here.

"Health experts, including the government, might wish to take into account the perceptions of smokers as to how long they think they will live in formulating policy."

Emma Thorne | alfa
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