USC Price School of Public Policy

Goldman Aging Study

Goldman Estimates Longer Life Spans

By Anna Cearley

Dana Goldman

New estimates of the future life span of Americans exceed the government’s own projections by as much as 7.9 years, according to a research team of heath policy experts that included USC professor Dana Goldman.

The findings – published in the December issue of Milbank Quarterly – carries widespread health policy and financial implications since it signals that government programs for older citizens, such as Medicare and Social Security, are being under-funded.

The study, which calculated the life span of Americans by the year 2050, was sponsored by the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society. The network is an interdisciplinary group focusing on challenges and opportunities faced by changing generational demographics.

Goldman is a member of the network along with his co-authors Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois in Chicago, Yuhui Zheng of the National Bureau of Economic Research and John W. Rowe of Columbia University.

“This research renews concerns about the nation’s fiscal health, as a larger population of older Americans means even greater federal entitlement spending and more competition for discretionary resources,” Goldman said.

At USC, Goldman holds the Norman Topping Chair in Medicine and Public Policy in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development and is also with the School of Pharmacy. He directs the USC-based Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.

To estimate future life expectancy in America, the team created a formula that took into consideration lower death rates due to scientific advances that reduce the progress of diseases.

The study also took into account technological advances that are expected to slow down the aging process. The study is the first to demonstrate how slowing down the aging process can influence mortality and population growth in the United States, according to the researchers.

“There’s been all sorts of exciting biomedical developments that suggest we may be able to actually do something about the aging process on the molecular level,” Goldman said.

The researchers forecast that by 2050, Americans may live between 3.1 and 7.9 years longer than official government projections. The higher estimate involves factoring improvements in delaying the aging process.

Breaking the estimate down for gender, by 2050 females could expect to have life expectancies between the ages of 89.2 and 93.3. For males, life expectancy would rise to between the ages of 83.2 and 85.9.

In comparison, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Social Security Administration estimates that in 2050, female life expectancy will be between 83.4 years and 85.3 years for females and male life expectancy will be between 80 years and 80.9 years. Their estimates are based on the assumption that improvements in mortality will actually decline.

According to the study, this means that the government may be underestimating its future Medicare and Social Security needs by as much as $8.3 trillion. At the same time, researchers noted that longer life expectancy could also lead to new markets in health care and leisure while providing society with a more experienced work force.

“This is really a wonderful development for society, and it’s going to make people more productive and live longer and perhaps have more fulfilling lives,” Goldman said. “But on a social level, it creates tensions in the social fabric, and those are manifested mostly in the fiscal consequences as we figure out how to publicly finance longer lives.”

Photo by Tom Queally