When do you want to die? (It’s a question, not a threat).
The journal Nature recently published a study (1) suggesting that nobody should expect to live beyond 115 years of age, and that increases in human longevity beyond the age of 100 have not been observed since the mid-1990s.
So we humans might be able to max-out at 115, but perhaps as relevant a question is whether we actually want to. Of course, there will be tremendous variation in individual preferences on such a delicate and emotional matter, with factors including general health and well-being, financial independence and companionship all likely to feature strongly. But in the aggregate, do human preferences match biological possibilities? In an era of rising expectations, increases in average life expectancy and the social consequences associated with both, at what point does the mind say, ‘enough is enough’?
ICM Unlimited used our national representative omnibus service, ICMLitmus, to test the proposition among the British public. The first point to note is that, in the absence of severe illness or incapacity, the ideal lifespan is longer than the current average life expectancy, which was recently estimated to increase to 87.6 for women by 2030, and to 85.7 for men over the same period. (2) Guaranteed a healthy old age, the British public are more than happy to extend life well into the 90s, with mean preference among men 99.6 and among women 95.8. Overall, this implies a mean target age of 97.7 years.
Yet that also implies that few would like to extend mortality to the maximum possible check-out number. Only 18% wanted to reach that magic number or beyond, with one in twenty (5%) hoping for a beyond reasonable 120+ year lifespan.
Indeed a plurality (30%) are quite happy to call it quits around the projected life expectancy, between the ages of 85 and 94. One in five (20%) wants to reach the milestone of 100, but like a cricketer who reaches three figures, many of them soon want to reap the applause on their way back to the pavilion.
Might we expect older generations to want more, knowing that their own end game is just that bit closer than most? Yes actually, a bit: there is a slight correlation with between age and the hope for a longer life, with the mean increasing to 101.5 and 101.9 among the 65-74 and 75+ age groups respectively. At the opposite end of the scale, few are hoping to die before they get old, which members of The Who probably now probably concur with – members of the 18-24 age group would like to reach 95.3 before they shuffle off their mortal coil.
Wealth probably doesn’t come into this, with hoped-for age as high among the most affluent AB group as it is among the least wealthy DEs. If you live in the greenbelt of Wales and the South West you might hope for a full 6 years more than Scots, which could also be more about the weather. And while this has no legitimate basis, Remain voters in the recent referendum want an extra 6 months compared to Leavers. Maybe, just maybe, they hope it will be enough to see us back in the European Union fold.
ICM Unlimited interviewed 2,008 adults aged 18+ online on 12-13th October 2016, using ICMLitmus, the nationally representative twice a week omnibus service from ICM. Questions from £180. https://www.icmunlimited.com/litmus/
1. Xiao Dong, Brandon Milholland & Jan Vig. “Evidence for a limit to human lifespan”.