ON THE big question of life, men overshoot, and women shoot short.
A survey of older workers by Macquarie University shows most men think they're going to live longer than is likely, women usually have more life left than they think, and men and women alike expect to die before their partner.
Just over 1900 participants were questioned twice, with a year in between. People who remained working throughout the survey period expected to live longer than those who remained retired, the study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior found. The ones who expected to live longest of all were those who had earlier retired, then returned to work during the survey year.
Barbara Griffin, one of the researchers and a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Macquarie, said: "The longer your self-estimated life expectancy, the more likely you are to keep working or return to work."
Men in the study estimated their life would be 1.19 years longer than the Bureau of Statistics actuarial estimates for their age based on death rates. Women underestimated their likely life span by nearly a year.
In estimating their own longevity, people take account of their parent's ages of death and their own health and lifestyles as well as the published actuarial probabilities of life expectancy for their age. The researchers said an older workers' mental model of when he will die "may actually become as important as chronological age" in affecting behaviour.
About half those surveyed gave "reasonably accurate" estimates of their life expectancy, Dr Griffin said. But 23 per cent overestimated by five years or more, and about the same proportion underestimated.
Nearly everyone thought they would die before their partner. "That is wishful thinking," Dr Griffin said. "They don't want to be alone."
The average retirement age for Australians who retired in the five years up to 2009 was 60.2 years.