Mortality beliefs distorted: Magnifying the risk of dying young
We explore mortality beliefs by eliciting individual-level belief distributions for participants’ remaining lifespan. Across two independent samples, from Germany and the USA, we find that individuals—while accurately forecasting their life expectancy—substantially overestimate the likelihood of dying young (younger than 50 years) and overestimate the likelihood of reaching very old age (older than 100 years). In other words, the modes of the belief distributions are relatively accurate, but the tails of the belief distributions are significantly ‘fatter’ than the corresponding tails of distributions obtained from demographic data. Our results are robust to variations in belief elicitation techniques, and to assumptions underlying normative longevity forecasts. The results have implications for a range of questions of economic behavior—including intertemporal choice, consumption smoothing, saving, and risk management.
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