While there has been an overall increase in life expectancy for many years, those gains are not spread evenly across all demographic groups, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research.
Life expectancy is a key consideration both for individuals—who must factor it into retirement-related decisions such as structuring annuities and drawing down savings—and for the government—because it drives policy decisions on benefits including Social Security and Medicare.
The analysis said that various studies have presented differing data regarding life expectancy trends among different demographic groups since they defined those groups differently. It concluded that while life expectancy is increasing among all socioeconomic levels, the gap between higher and lower levels has been widening since 1979.
It said for example that between that year and 2011, life expectancy for men at age 65 rose by 5.9 years for men in the top economic quartile but by just 4.1 for those in the bottom quartile; for women, the gain was 3.7 versus 1.3 years.
“Plausible explanations include increasing economic stress due to the well-documented shift towards more-skilled labor and/or changing family structure, which has seen marriage rates decline and divorce rates increase for the less-educated relative to the most-educated,” it said.