Seniors practicing yoga under sunny blue sky

Life expectancy

Actuarial tables can offer guidance to help inform planning for the length of your post-working life; however, these measures can sometimes be misleading. While current life expectancy statistics indicate that men can expect to live to 76 and women to 81, those numbers are taken from birth and increase as you age.

Said another way, the longer you live, the longer your life expectancy. This means that statistically a man celebrating his 65th birthday can expect to surpass age 84 and a similarly aged woman, age 86.

Joint longevity

Another component that is frequently missed is the concept of joint longevity. While a 65-year-old may have only a 22 percent likelihood of reaching age 90, a similarly aged couple has a 47 percent chance one spouse will reach that milestone and a 20 percent chance that one will live past age 95.1

Probability of living to age 90
Life expectancy of today’s 65-year-old

life expectancy

This means that planning for the future should be structured to support various first-to-die scenarios and the unique considerations inherent in each of them. This should include a survivor plan that addresses care and housing preferences, which is typically overlooked in the planning process. Another best practice is to revisit life projections as you reach milestone birthdays to ensure you are adjusting and using accurate numbers.

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Gender differences

Several gender-related factors that are unique to women will impact not only the length of their retirement, but also the need to plan individually for their care in later years. On average a woman is at least two years younger than her male spouse, adding to the life expectancy gap for couples and extending their joint longevity by five-plus years.


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Because end-of-life care is more expensive and women are typically the survivor, increased longevity has a disproportionate impact on them. Due to this “survivor factor,” not only are they more likely to experience a long-term care event, but the length of stay is typically longer, adding to the overall cost of care. Women are also at increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s requiring memory care, which further contributes to this increased cost.

As women are often the caregivers to their male spouse and then widowed prior to their decline, it is important to address specific care preferences and to include these costs in your health care planning. Having been caregivers, women are also more sensitive to becoming a burden to their family in late-stage life.

Your health legacy

Family history and even racial and ethnic factors can predispose us to a variety of health outcomes. This makes connecting with family members to understand the health history of previous generations a crucial component to early detection, preventive measures and risk management.

Your doctors can assess your risk factors and help you decide what is actionable, but a clear grasp of the genetic hand you were dealt can help inform their approach.

Take action
  • Use your health history, including your gender, family and lifestyle, to inform projected life expectancy
  • Consider joint longevity when building a plan and budgeting for the future
  • Model multiple scenarios, and include a survivor plan that addresses the needs of the surviving spouse

Read more from our RBC Wealth Insights report Taking control of health care in retirement

1. Social Security Administration, Period Life Table, 2011 (published in 2015), J.P. Morgan Asset Management.
2. Life expectancy in the USA hits a record high, USA Today, 2014.
3. Older women 80% more likely than men to be impoverished, MarketWatch, 2016.
4. Women & Long-Term Care Fact Sheet, AARP, 2007.