Volume 45 - Article 14 | Pages 453–468

Is the accuracy of individuals' survival beliefs associated with their knowledge of population life expectancy?

By Adriaan Kalwij, Vesile Kutlu Koc

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Date received:15 Nov 2020
Date published:30 Jul 2021
Word count:2493
Keywords:life expectancy, mortality risk, population, subjective survival


Background: On average, individuals underestimate their survival chances, which could yield suboptimal long-term decisions.

Objective: Is the accuracy of individuals’ survival beliefs associated with their knowledge of population life expectancy of people of their age and gender?

Methods: We use the 1995 and 1996 waves of the Dutch DNB Household Survey (DHS) with data on individuals’ survival beliefs and their knowledge of population life expectancy, supplemented with death registry data for the years 1995 to 2018. The accuracy of their survival beliefs is measured by comparing these beliefs with (actual) survival during the years after the survey was conducted. We provide prima facie evidence on the association between individuals’ knowledge of population life expectancy and the accuracy of their survival beliefs, and quantify this association using mortality risk models that control for socioeconomic status and health-related characteristics.

Results: Individuals with only some over- or underestimation of population life expectancy had, on average, about a one-third smaller difference between their survival beliefs and survival rate than those who severely underestimated population life expectancy. In line with this prima facie evidence, we find that, after controlling for socioeconomic and health characteristics, 55-year-old individuals with one-year of better knowledge of population life expectancy underestimated their lifetime with, on average, about 0.3 years less (95% CI: 0.09–0.52).

Contribution: We provide empirical evidence in support of the hypothesis that individuals with a better knowledge of population life expectancy have more accurate survival beliefs.

Author's Affiliation

Adriaan Kalwij - Universiteit Utrecht, the Netherlands [Email]
Vesile Kutlu Koc - Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA), Germany [Email]

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