Thursday, February 09, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions on New Longevity Study

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Now we are receiving a lot of requests and questions from reporters regarding our new published study on old-age mortality.

In order to save time for everyone, here are some frequently asked questions and our suggested answers:

Question 1:
If death rates don't really slow down when we reach advanced ages, why did previous researchers conclude that they did? Where did they go wrong?


There are several reasons why old-age death rates were underestimated, and the most simple explanation (but not the only one) is data quality.

Usually when death rates are calculated they are based on the ratios of the number of deaths to number of alive persons at given age. The number of alive persons (denominator) is estimated from Census data, which depend on self-reported claims of persons' age. Self-reported claims of persons' age are not very accurate, particularly at advanced ages, when age exaggeration is common. Thus the denominator is prone to overestimation, leading to underestimation of the ratio (death rates).

In our study we used a different approach based on the method of extinct generations, which do not rely on self-reported claims of persons' age, but rather on the documented ages of deceased persons. We discuss this topic in great detail in our article at

Our new published study has passed the scrutiny of independent evaluation by three anonymous experts-reviewers, before our manuscript was accepted for publication. The whole process took two years, and the final article addressed all suggestions made by the reviewers So, there are good reasons to be confident in these new peer-reviewed findings.


Question 2:
Other than correcting a basic misunderstanding about aging and mortality -- which is undoubtedly important in itself -- why does this matter?


Recently the science journalist and writer Jan TenBruggencate made the following comment on our new study in his blog:

"The findings have serious impacts. All kinds of calculations are based on the assumption of how many elderly will be alive, and how fast they’re dying: retirement planning, annuities, insurance policies, Social Security payments, care home cost projections, an entire range of health care numbers, and lots more."

We believe that this comment is a compelling answer to this question.

Also after our new NAAJ publication we were invited to present and discuss our findings at the Advisory Board Meeting of a financial organization (BroadRiver Asset Management) located in the New York Empire State Building. We travelled there from Chicago, and after our presentation we got the following feedback from one of the Advisory Board members, Dr. Anne Zissu, Chair, Department of Business NYC College of Technology, CUNY:

"The new research by Leonid A. Gavrilov and Natalia S. Gavrilova, that focuses on mortality of Americans who are 90 years of age and older and its results will alter our financial approach to this valuation [of mortality/longevity risk]. Demographers and financiers need to work on this issue together, and their models must adapt to each others.

Leonid A. Gavrilov and Natalia S. Gavrilova’s research, and particularly this new study, is a great contribution to our society and an essential tool for financiers trying to develop models that focus on transforming seniors’ illiquid assets into liquid assets towards the use of financing their remaining years’ expenses."

Dr. Anne Zissu kindly allowed us to cite publicly her opinion on our work. Contact information for Dr. Anne Zissu is available upon the request.

Also after our new publication we were invited by the Chicago Actuarial Association (CAA) to present and discuss our new research findings at their annual meeting in Chicago on March 13 this year. Being invited speakers at such an event with about a hundred participating experts is a form of recognition for the significance of our new study


Question 3:
How did this paper come about?


We became interested in studies on aging, longevity and extension of healthy lifespan from the very start of our scientific career, and our first scientific articles on these topics were published in 1978. ( please see and )

When we wrote our book "The Biology of Life Span" in 1991, we emphasized the importance of longevity data analysis for testing competing theories of aging, and resolving the question about the biological limits to human longevity.

In 1997 we moved to the United States from Russia (getting the Green Card by US lottery), and started to look for available data resources in USA.

Here we learned about the existence of Social Security Administration Death Master File, which contains personal longevity information about almost everyone who died in USA after 1980s.

In 2005 we started to analyze this data set and presented our preliminary findings at several meetings of the Population Association of America, Gerontological Society of America and several international symposia "Living to 100" organized by the Society of Actuaries.

Our presentations were very well received by experts at these meeting, who encouraged us to continue these studies, provided very valuable advice, and then strongly recommended to publish our findings in professional peer-reviewed journal.

We just followed these recommendations from the scientific and actuarial communities.




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