My dad, who isn’t competitive at all, asked me recently how old he would have to be before he had outlived 50% of his contemporaries. He suspects he may have passed that age sometime in the past few years. So I’ve been exploring the ABS mortality statistics.
If you look at the most recently produced life table, the answer is that a man must make it about four months past his 82nd birthday (The life expectancy at birth on current rates is 79.2 years – the difference is the difference between a mean and a median).
But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The most recently produced life table uses mortality rates from 2006-2008. So it overstates the chances of living that long, for my dad’s contemporaries, who have lived through a time where mortality rates were worse than they are now. So I had to go and see what I could reconstruct about mortality rates, to reflect the actual experience of my dad’s contemporaries. I’ve cheated, and used Australian statistics for the whole period (my dad didn’t move to Australia until his late 30s, but he lived in New Zealand and the US, mostly, until then).
The difference is actually less than I thought it would be. He has to live to almost exactly 78 years old to outlast half his contemporaries. But his life expectancy at birth (based on the actual experience to now) was only 70 years.
One of the striking improvements in mortality was at birth. 4.5% of babies born back in the 30s didn’t make it to their first birthday (including my dad’s older sister). In 2006-2008 table, 0.5% of babies didn’t make it. Another measure of general improvement is that back when Dad was born, his life expectancy based on mortality rates for the population then was only 63 years. Improvements in medicine, nutrition, and public health have added 7 years to the lifespans of babies born back then.