An International View of the Living to 100 Symposium - a Good Look at Mortality Risk

March 03, 2020| Von Beata Puls | Life | English | Français | Deutsch

Even though the SOA’s Living to 100 Symposium takes place in the U.S. and the majority of attendees are from North America, I found it to be a huge benefit for international participants to attend. The 2020 Symposium did not disappoint.

For me, a mortality product specialist based in Germany, the most exciting thing about the symposium was that every single presentation and research paper related to mortality risk - and therefore was highly relevant to my work in supporting Gen Re’s international clients with the development and pricing of mortality products.

The wide range of covered topics and discussions was impressive. I learned about measuring the aging process through an epigenetic clock and about how to better understand oldest age mortality by considering data quality and completeness for deaths in centenarians. I was happy to join discussions about the limits of human lifespan and attend less technical discussions about the challenges of global aging and the importance of social capital. Of particular interest for me was the summary of mortality trends in the U.S., the UK, Canada, and other countries, information I could compare to our own company learnings.

A Gen Re View of Mortality Trends

This overview of mortality around many countries helped put the work that Gen Re did in Germany in context, as many of the issues identified were also present in other countries and as managing mortality risk is at the core of every life insurance company. Last year we, at Gen Re, analyzed mortality trends and the underlying causes of death for Germany in a comprehensive study.

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For many decades we have seen strong mortality improvements, especially in young males. In more recent years, just as in many other countries, we’ve observed a perceptible slowdown in improvements for almost all ages. The decomposition of mortality trends by causes of death showed that circulatory diseases primarily contribute to this slowdown. The deceleration in improvements relating to circulatory diseases could be linked with behavioral risk factors, such as obesity, lack of exercise and eating habits. But it’s also possible that the potential for further improvements in circulatory diseases might simply be exhausted, especially when we consider the high mortality improvements that we have observed since the “cardiovascular revolution” of the 1970s. In addition, we observe a shift towards deaths from unspecified causes that trigger mortality deterioration from these causes.

In particular, we observe a shift from deaths due to circulatory disease to deaths from cancer, which is now the leading cause of death in the middle age group of 20-69. Its high importance becomes apparent particularly in females where cancers account for 50% of all deaths in 2017. However, development of new drugs and treatments will continue to be an important driver of future mortality improvements, especially in cancer treatment and prevention.

In Germany, we observe an increase in deaths from overdoses and opioids as well, but at a much lower scale than in the U.S. where the main slowdown of improvements is observed in young and middle ages. Similar to the UK, seasonal factors have driven higher mortality in Germany due to some strong winters in recent years. This might explain the slowdown of mortality improvements, especially in higher ages where the UK also observes an increase in deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Living to 100 Symposium allows attendees to exchange information on mortality relevant topics, discuss the general theories about limits to the human life span, and learn about recent research in mortality patterns that allows us to compare between countries. For me, the latest symposium was a truly exciting and fulfilling experience - and I hope to see many of you in three years at the next one!


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