IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Optimal Retirement Tontines for the 21st Century: With Reference to Mortality Derivatives in 1693


  • Moshe A. Milevsky
  • Thomas S. Salisbury


Historical tontines promised enormous rewards to the last survivors at the expense of those who died early. While this design appealed to the gambling instinct, it is a suboptimal way to manage longevity risk during retirement. This is why fair life annuities making constant payments -- where the insurance company is exposed to the longevity risk -- induces greater lifetime utility. However, tontines do not have to be designed using a winner-take-all approach and insurance companies do not actually sell fair life annuities, partially due to aggregate longevity risk. In this paper we derive the tontine structure that maximizes lifetime utility, but doesn't expose the sponsor to any longevity risk. We examine its sensitivity to the size of the tontine pool; individual longevity risk aversion; and subjective health status. The optimal tontine varies with the individual's longevity risk aversion $\gamma$ and the number of participants $n$, which is problematic for product design. That said, we introduce a structure called a natural tontine whose payout declines in exact proportion to the (expected) survival probabilities, which is near-optimal for all $\gamma$ and $n$. We compare the utility of optimal tontines to the utility of loaded life annuities under reasonable demographic and economic conditions and find that the life annuity's advantage over tontines, is minimal. We also review and analyze the first-ever mortality-derivative issued by the British government, known as King Williams's tontine of 1693. We shed light on the preferences and beliefs of those who invested in the tontines vs. the annuities and argue that tontines should be re-introduced and allowed to co-exist with life annuities. Individuals would likely select a portfolio of tontines and annuities that suit their personal preferences for consumption and longevity risk, as they did over 320 years ago.

Suggested Citation

  • Moshe A. Milevsky & Thomas S. Salisbury, 2013. "Optimal Retirement Tontines for the 21st Century: With Reference to Mortality Derivatives in 1693," Papers 1307.2824,
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1307.2824

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Latest version
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alexis Direr, 2010. "Flexible Life Annuities," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 12(1), pages 43-55, February.
    2. Cannon, Edmund & Tonks, Ian, 2008. "Annuity Markets," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199216994.
    3. Nicholas C. Barberis, 2013. "Thirty Years of Prospect Theory in Economics: A Review and Assessment," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(1), pages 173-196, Winter.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1307.2824. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (arXiv administrators). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.