mature African American woman smiling

How Long Do You Want to Live?

Researchers have found that more than one in six younger people would prefer to die before they are 80.

The team of investigators from the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, Mailman School of Public Health, said there no indication that the relationship between preferring a life shorter or longer than average life expectancy depended on age, gender or education.

But when it came to racial and ethnic backgrounds, there were some differences. African-American participants were particularly likely to report wanting to live 100 or more years. People who identified themselves as Hispanic or as an ethnicity other than White/Caucasian, Black/African-American or Hispanic were more likely to indicate a preference for a life shorter than average life expectancy.

The study is one of the first to investigate how younger adults perceive and anticipate their own aging. Findings are published online in the journal Ageing and Society.

Using data from a telephone survey of over 1600 adults aged 18 to 64 years, the authors also found that one-third would prefer a life expectancy in the eighties, or about equal to average life expectancy, and approximately one-quarter would prefer to live into their nineties, somewhat longer than average life expectancy. The remaining participants said they hope to live to 100 or more years. Participants were on average 42 years old, half were women and 33 per cent were university graduates.

The results, which were controlled for overall happiness, confirmed that having fewer positive old age expectations was associated with the preference to die before reaching average life expectancy. On the contrary, having fewer negative old expectations was associated with the preference to live either somewhat longer or much longer than average life expectancy.

“Having rather bleak expectations of what life will be like in old age seems to undermine the desire to live up to and beyond current levels of average life expectancy,” said first author Catherine Bowen, PhD. and expert on mental representations of old age and the aging process. “People who embrace the ‘better to die young’ attitude may underestimate their ability to cope with negative age-related life experiences as well as to find new sources of well-being in old age.”

logo

The latest for the greatest!

Get up-to-the-moment health + wellness info
  right to your inbox, plus exclusive offers!