Poll: Will You Live Longer and Better?

Despite wide-ranging concerns about getting older, most Americans want to live longer than the current average. But not too much longer.

If it were up to them, Americans on average would like to live to be 87 years old -- nine years older than current life expectancy. But there's a limit: Just a quarter volunteer that they'd like to live to 100 or older. And even if medical breakthroughs made living to 120 possible, most would say no thanks.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

Quality of life is a major concern. One reason more people don't want to live to 100 is that most -- nearly two-thirds of adults -- don't think they could be that old and still enjoy a good quality of life. That consideration has a strong influence on desired longevity.

Top concerns about aging include poor health, being unable to care for yourself and losing mental acuity. Lack of money, being unable to travel and being a burden on others are among the mid-tier concerns, while lowest on the list are being alone and -- in a very distant last place -- losing your looks. Beauty clearly is just skin deep.

This ABC News/USA Today poll supports a joint reporting project on longevity, "Living Longer, Living Better," airing on ABC News programs the week of Oct. 24.

Despite wishes for longevity, aging concerns clearly are widespread: Ninety-two percent of Americans are at least somewhat concerned about at least one of the 10 items tested in this survey, and 64 percent are concerned about five or more of them.

Concerns About Aging -- Top Tier
Losing your health   73%
Losing ability to care for yourself   70
Losing mental abilities   69

Concerns About Aging -- Mid Tier
Running out of money   60%
Not being able to drive/travel on own   59
Being a burden on your family   54
Winding up in a nursing home   52
Not being able to work or volunteer   49

Concerns About Aging -- Lower Tier
Being alone   39%
Losing your looks   22

Interestingly, seniors are less concerned across the board about aging than are those under 65 (with the exception of concerns about the ability to drive and travel independently, on which people over and under 65 rank about equally). Averaging results across the 10 items on the list, 45 percent of seniors express concern about these aging issues, compared with 57 percent of adults younger than 65. Being older apparently is less daunting than just thinking about it.

Long Life

As noted, concerns about aging play directly into desires for longevity. Among people who think it's very likely they could live to 100 and still enjoy a good quality of life, 56 percent indeed would like to live that long. Among those who think a good quality of life is unlikely at 100, far fewer -- just 17 percent -- want to see the day.

But other factors also come into play. Most people see a long life as a worthy goal: Nearly two-thirds say it's worth it to practice moderation in order to live to 100 (being very careful about your diet, exercising regularly, not smoking and avoiding alcohol and stress). But on the other hand, Americans on average think someone becomes "elderly" at age 71. And the older at which people define being "elderly," the longer they themselves want to live.

Of course there are those at the far end -- even the metaphysical end -- of the spectrum: Asked how long they'd like to live, 7 percent in this poll say "forever."

Life Spans
  Desired Actual
All   87 years   78 years
Men   87   75
Women   87   80


There's no difference in the average age men and women would like to attain -- 87 for both sexes (this excludes those who want to live forever). Women, though, are likely to come closer to the target: the Centers for Disease Control reports that life expectancy is 80 for American women, versus 75 for men. (Either is a bit better than the Psalms' "threescore and 10," but well short of Noah's 950.)

Desires for an extremely long life run in the other direction: Women are substantially less apt than men to say they'd like to live to 120 if medical breakthroughs made that possible --33 percent of women say so, compared with 49 percent of men.

Want to Live to 120?
  Yes No
All   41%   53
Men   49   45
Women   33   60

There also are differences between the sexes in concerns about aging: Women are four to 12 points more likely than men to be concerned about each item tested on this survey, peaking with women's greater concerns about running out of money. On average across these 10 items, 59 percent of women express concern, compared with 50 percent of men.

Concerns About Aging
  Women Men Difference
Losing health   78%   68   +10
Losing ability to care for yourself   75   66   +9
Losing mental abilities   73   65   +8
Running out of money   66   54   +12
Not being able to drive/travel on own   61   57   +4
Being a burden on your family   59   50   +9
Winding up in a nursing home   57   46   +11
Not being able to work or volunteer   52   47   +5
Being alone   42   35   +7
Losing looks   26   18   +8

Financial Resources

While most are concerned about running out of money, 69 percent of Americans express some confidence they'll have sufficient financial resources to live on in retirement. But -- as the level of concern suggests -- fewer, 30 percent, are "very confident" of it, with a 13-point gap between men and women, 37 versus 24 percent.

This confidence, naturally, is directly related to income: Nearly six in 10 people with household incomes above $100,000 are very confident they'll have enough money post-retirement, compared with only two in 10 of those in under-$35,000 households.

Other Groups

Among other factors in views on aging, good health helps. People who report that they're currently in excellent health (31 percent of adults) want to live longer (to an average age of 90), and are less concerned about getting older, than people whose health isn't good. The average level of concern about aging issues is 48 percent among people in excellent health, compared with 63 percent among those whose health is not good.

People with kids at home are no more likely than those without to be worried about being a burden on their families, being alone or ending up in a nursing home. But they are somewhat more concerned about running out of money as they get older.

Youth, on the other hand, is not a strong factor. Young adults (age 29 and younger) would like to live to an average age of 87 -- the same as their elders -- and define "elderly" as starting at age 67, compared with 73 among their elders.

A bigger difference is that young adults are 20 points more likely than their elders to think they can live to 100 and still have a good quality of life, 51 percent to 31 percent. It remains to be seen whether that represents greater faith in the medical technology of the future -- or just the folly of youth.


This ABC News/USA Today poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 12-16, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Fieldwork by TNS of Horsham, PA.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

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