In a preprint published in Social Science Research Network, researchers have shown that it might be possible to protect people from making poor financial decisions earlier in life by providing them objective longevity information .
Do you save up?
It is now well-accepted that income positively correlates with life expectancy. Indeed, poverty is a strong risk factor for all-cause mortality. Moreover, the rich enjoy up to a decade of more disability-free life compared to the poor .
In many cases, however, it is not simply about earnings but in how well these earnings are allocated. Saving up a percentage of monthly income can make a big difference later in life.
According to a study published in 2018, approximately 60% of older adults regret not having saved more during their working years . There could be many reasons why people choose not to save money, including poor judgement about their expected longevity.
In this study, the researchers explored if accurate information about individual survival probabilities increases regret for undersaving earlier in life and, therefore, potentially prevents poor financial decision making.
If not, you’ll regret it
The researchers conducted a survey among 1,764 American adults over the age of 50 (average age of 72.5), asking them if they experience regret regarding the financial decisions they had made when they were younger. Around 60% of the participants were female, and three-quarters considered themselves to be in good health.
The participants were divided into three groups. The T1 group was asked about subjective survival probabilities prior to the regret questions. The T2 group was also asked to estimate how much longer they expect to live, but they were provided additional objective information about longevity for their age group prior to the regret-related questions. The control group answered the regret-related questions only.
Apart from asking the participants “Do you think that what you saved was too little, about right, or too much?”, the researchers also included questions about long-term care insurance and about longevity insurance. This is a form of ‘reverse’ life insurance that is steadily paid out during older ages instead of to beneficiaries at death.
Participants who had not purchased any such insurance were asked if they would have done it given another chance. In addition, the participants were asked if they regret being financially dependent on someone else and if they regret quitting work too soon.
The results showed that about 60% of respondents regretted not having saved more, 40% regretted not having bought long-term care insurance, about 40% regretted not working longer, and 10% regretted being financially dependent on others.
Interestingly, better educated and healthier participants regretted less about undersaving and having stopped working too early. Somewhat unsurprisingly, wealthier people were less likely to regret not having saved enough and not having purchased long-term care insurance.
Know your longevity probabilities
Finally, the researchers show that providing objective longevity information increases the participants’ financial regret. In other words, when people are given probabilities about how much longer they are likely to live, they consider saving more money, buying insurance that makes sense for such a long lifespan, and making decisions to protect themselves against financial problems throughout their lives.
On the other hand, no difference in terms of financial regret was shown between the control group and the T1 group. Therefore, it is not enough to ask people about their subjective survival probabilities. Instead, it is important to inform members of the public what their chances are to survive at older ages.
Older people often express regret about financial decisions made earlier in life that left them susceptible to old-age insecurity. Prior work has explored one outcome, saving regret, or peoples’ expressed wish that they had saved more earlier in life. The present paper extends attention to five additional areas regarding financial decisions, examining whether older Americans also regret not having insured better, claimed benefits and quit working too early, and becoming financially dependent on others. Using a controlled randomized experiment conducted on 1,764 respondents age 50+ in the Health and Retirement Study, we show that providing people objective longevity information does alter their self-reported financial regret. Specifically, giving people information about objective survival probabilities more than doubled regret expressed about not having purchased long term care, and it also boosted their regret by 2.4 times for not having purchased lifetime income. We conclude that information provision can be a potent, as well as cost-effective, method of alerting people to retirement risk.
This study demonstrates that inaccurate perception of individual longevity prospects seems to be a major reason why older people end up with financial regrets. It is thus of paramount importance that members of the general public consider their own longevity to help them avoid making financial mistakes earlier in life and secure lifelong financial stability. This only becomes more true in a world with considerably longer lifespans.
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 Hurwitz, A. & Mitchell, O. S. Financial Regret at Older Ages and Longevity Awareness. (2022) doi:10.2139/ssrn.4283158
 Zaninotto, P. et al. Socioeconomic Inequalities in Disability-free Life Expectancy in Older People from England and the United States: A Cross-national Population-Based Study. J. Gerontol. A Biol. Sci. Med. Sci. 75, 906–913 (2020)
 Börsch-Supan, A. H., Bucher-Koenen, T., Hurd, M. D. & Rohwedder, S. Saving Regret. (2018) doi:10.3386/w25238