Life Expectancy

life expectancy

Axe throwing in 1500 had a much different meaning than in 2022. It also probably came with mead instead of beer.

I’m not convinced that human culture was designed to last as long as human beings live.

Let me explain: most of our cultural norms were made up back when the printing press was technology new enough to confuse anyone over 50.[1]  Of course, at that time there weren’t a whole lot of people over 50.  The average life span was 40, which means I’d likely be a dozen years dead. 

So here we are in 2022.  In the U.S., you can expect to live to a little over 79, which is double what it was when we decided “’Til Death Do Us Part” was a good idea.  Even as recently as 1950, you’d only expect to live to 66.5.  That’s an enormous difference. 

I’m not saying that we should be sad that we are living longer or that we should change wedding vows to “’Til Death or 25 Years Do Us Part.”  On the contrary, we should all be excited that we have the chance to see Halley’s Comet twice.  On the other hand, perhaps we ought to adjust our expectations.

One of the ‘little blessings’ that comes along with turning 50 is that you start getting mail from AARP and hearing aid companies and Tom Selleck telling you that reverse mortgages are a good idea.[2]  I qualify for some senior discounts, which seems awfully strange to me, because in my head I’m still around 28.  Being a senior at 50 makes sense if you can only expect to live another 15 years.  If you only live until 65 and don’t start being a senior at 50, most people aren’t going to get much time to be seniors.  But now that we can bet on another 30 years, it seems silly. 

It also seems silly that we’ve based our expectations on limitations that don’t exist anymore.  Is the divorce rate going up?  Well, of course it is!  Not because of uncontested divorce and the fact that there isn’t that kind of societal shame associated with it, but because when teenage Romeo and Juliet got together at 14 they expected only another 25 years.[3]  Now, even if you wait until 40 to take the plunge, the age at which R & J figured they’d be gone, you should still expect to be together for another 40.  It’s one thing to put up with wet towels on the floor for a quarter century, but an entire half?  Of course most of us don’t make it through the long haul.

Retirement is yet another bugaboo.  Back in the heyday of the pension, when Ward Cleaver came home expecting June to give him a cocktail, a pipe, and his slippers, 30 years was standard.  You worked for 30 years, you got your gold watch, and you went home to get paid for doing virtually nothing: the reward for three whole decades of contribution.  This made some sense, mathematically.  If you started working at 20, and retired after 30 years at 50, you’d have 15 years of retirement.  In your 45 year adulthood, you spend 2/3 of it working.  Now, if you retire after 30 years, you still have another 30 to go.  That same (non-existent) pension and IRA has to last you twice as long.  That requires financial magic.  Better keep working another 10 or 15 years. 

Same body, same brain, same stamina, yet we’re expected to stay in the rat race until the age when our grandfathers were dead.  We still get the same 15 years of rest at the end, but it comes after half again as much work.  No wonder my peers are all burned out and say the ‘f’ word a lot.

You know, the ‘f’ word.  Ffffffour-oh-one-kay.[4]  

[1] If not younger.

[2] Here I switch into lawyer mode: except in rare, land-rich-cash-poor situations, they aren’t. 

[3] Spoiler alert: it ended up being more like 25 minutes.

[4] I swear (no pun intended) that’s the ‘f’ word I meant the whole time.

If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori at her website,, on Twitter, or on Facebook.   Her newest book, a Foreword INDIES Gold Medal award winner, “If You Did What I Asked In The First Place” is currently available by clicking here.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply