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A mental model of factors associated with subjective life expectancy


  • Griffin, Barbara
  • Loh, Vanessa
  • Hesketh, Beryl


The objective was to develop and test a framework based on a biopsychosocial model that can be used to identify factors associated with subjective (self-estimated) life expectancy (SLE). SLE predicts important work and retirement decisions so a better understanding of the factors that contribute to an individual's thoughts about their likely age at death is essential for late-career and financial planning and for developing interventions aimed at addressing inappropriate estimates. This is a sub-study of the Australian 45 and Up Study cohort. Survey data were collected at two time points (3 years apart) from 2579 participants aged over 55 years. Correlations and regression analyses tested the relationship of SLE with biomedical/genetic factors (age, health diagnoses, parental longevity), socioeconomic factors (income, education) health behaviors (exercise, smoking, alcohol use, diet), and psychosocial factors (optimism, distress, social connectedness). Variables within each set of factors except the socioeconomic set were significantly related to SLE. Healthy lifestyle behaviors significantly moderated the effect of parental longevity. The findings indicate that individuals construct an understanding of their personal life expectancy based on similar factors that predict actual life expectancy, but not all mortality risk factors appear to be weighted realistically. The findings imply that, at least to some extent, SLE is not a stable construct and might be amenable to intervention.

Suggested Citation

  • Griffin, Barbara & Loh, Vanessa & Hesketh, Beryl, 2013. "A mental model of factors associated with subjective life expectancy," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 79-86.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:82:y:2013:i:c:p:79-86
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.01.026

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael D. Hurd & Kathleen McGarry, 2002. "The Predictive Validity of Subjective Probabilities of Survival," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(482), pages 966-985, October.
    2. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1985. "Expectations, Life Expectancy, and Economic Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(2), pages 389-408.
    3. Katherine L. Fiori & Toni C. Antonucci & Kai S. Cortina, 2006. "Social Network Typologies and Mental Health Among Older Adults," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 61(1), pages 25-32.
    4. Jochen P. Ziegelmann & Sonia Lippke & Ralf Schwarzer, 2006. "Subjective Residual Life Expectancy in Health Self-Regulation," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 61(4), pages 195-201.
    5. Rogers, Richard G. & Powell-Griner, Eve, 1991. "Life expectancies of cigarette smokers and nonsmokers in the United States," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 32(10), pages 1151-1159, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Grevenbrock, Nils & Groneck, Max & Ludwig, Alexander & Zimper, Alexander, 2015. "Biased Survival Beliefs, Psychological and Cognitive Explanations, and the Demand for Life Insurances," Annual Conference 2015 (Muenster): Economic Development - Theory and Policy 113203, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    2. Grevenbrock, Nils & Groneck, Max & Ludwig, Alexander & Zimper, Alexander, 2018. "Cognition, optimism and the formation of age-dependent survival beliefs," SAFE Working Paper Series 200, Research Center SAFE - Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, Goethe University Frankfurt.


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