The three chapters of retirement: managing your longevity

Font Size:

Today’s retirees will live longer but it’s how the three distinct ‘chapters’ of retirement are managed that will make all the difference. David Williams explains how.

The way the current generation of seniors spend their longer years will have the biggest impact on their quality of life in retirement.

Statistics released in April this year by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in its report Life Expectancy and Disability in Australia 2003-15 reveal how many years you can expect to live in one of the three recognised stages of longevity.

Those stages are:

  • disability-free – the first chapter of retirement
  • some disability but independent – the second chapter
  • dependent – the third chapter.

The table below shows the expected average number of years in each stage at 65, 75 and 85.


The AIHW study shows that disability-free years have increased for all ages and reaffirms that, on average, more remaining years will be independent.

Even those who reach 85 can, on average, expect another few years before becoming dependent. The numbers still support the view that ‘the longer you live, the longer you’re likely to live’. At 65 the average lifespan is 86. For those who reach 75, they can expect to live to 88, and at 85 the expectation is 92.

Gender differences still exist, however, and while women on average outlive men, their dependency is one to two years longer.

Putting the numbers in perspective
There are limitations on numbers like these. First, they are averages. Also, as we age, personal abilities and conditions vary more widely between people.

As medical and social responses to ageing improve, life expectancies and the time in each of the stages will change. The good news is that as we age there tend to be fewer dependent years.

The key to understanding what your financial needs will be as you get older is not so much about what your age is, but what level of dependency you have. In the first chapter of retirement – and in the absence of a costly health condition – retirees are more likely to travel or spend on their lifestyle.

During the second chapter, although still independent, health issues arise for many that mean medical costs need to be paid. But it is in the third chapter that health spending overtakes almost all other bills.

Managing the stages
You probably feel anything but average. So, how long can you expect to live as you pass through each chapter of your retirement?

Fewer than 25 per cent of 65 year olds live to within three years of the national average lifespan for their age. Worse, we know the ‘official’ averages underestimate the likely outcome between ages 60 and 80 – just when people want to manage their income as well as possible.

The first step is to take a view on whether you are likely to have a different longevity from the average. One way to do this is by using the SHAPE Analyser, a free tool. In 2008, I developed this service because efforts to plan finances and other matters rely on an assumption about each person’s timeframe.

Since the number of dependent years drops slightly with increasing age, a longer than average life expectancy will probably end with about the same number of dependent years but having had more active years.

The next step is to take a view on the possible impact of disabilities on your lifestyle. To help with this, separate possible disabilities into three groups:

  • your current disabilities – ask your medical advisers to explain how they might evolve and clarify what could minimise their impact
  • family-linked disabilities – knowing whether there were family tendencies towards disabilities or diseases that might affect you, for example, vision, hearing, mobility and mental acuity could help you factor in your own response. It would also be useful for other family members to know this
  • disabilities that might arise from your current condition and behaviour – this is an opportunity for a frank discussion with your medical advisers about what you can do to minimise preventable disabilities.

While a focus on disabilities may seem a bit morbid, the goal is to minimise their impact for as long as possible. The first rule of war is to know your enemy!

Planning ahead
Using this approach, you can develop a timeline for your remaining years. As well as summarising your current thinking, this will help you to respond better to the unexpected issues that may arise.

This kind of personal planning also enables you to contribute much more effectively to developing and committing to a financial plan. There is no plan without a timeframe and the best timeframe is the one that you develop for yourself. You can then have a constructive conversation with your financial adviser – just as you will have had with your medical adviser.

Understanding more about the chapters in your longevity is a step towards taking more control of your life and achieving a more fulfilling future.

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy


Three in five Australians will not have enough money to retire

Most Australians are concerned that they will not have enough money to retire.

It’s time to bust the worst retirement myth of all

More than half of working Australians are not retirement-ready at all.

How long will you live?

David Williams shares how to measure your longevity, and how it shapes your retirement.


Total Comments: 5
  1. 0

    This is a timely article by David Williams and greatly appreciated. I recommend to retirees to request their medical adviser to make out a personalised Medical Healthcare Plan for them. In my case mine covers medical, podiatry and optometrist visits on a six month basis. I am 78 years of age and more than competent to manage my financial affairs. However to increase longevity and enjoy an active lifestyle I do daily resistance and aerobic exercise and my physician puts me through a EST cardiacI evaluation on the treadmill annually. I rarely eat meat and try to maintain a fairly low fat diet. I just completed the Shape Analyser and am pleased to see a suggested expiry of 93. I hope the above may be of interest to those who want to stay around a little longer through their own efforts.

    • 0

      I do similar things myself , I’m 61 but the males in my family have a habit of dying around 64. Some things are just hereditary. We like to think we control things but some of us never had a chance, though we may be able to stretch it out a bit.

  2. 0

    You just made a case for upping retirement age to 70
    Which I agree with

    • 0

      Yes we know your opinion yep we still don’t agree.

    • 0

      For office workers, bureaucrats, politicians, accountants, lawyers, doctors, university professors, etc. but NOT for teachers, nurses, building workers, labourers, cleaners, electrical or telephone linesmen, miners, and others who work in dangerous, unhealthy, physically strenuous or mentally stressful occupations. If retirement age is raised, we need a two-tier system that recognizes that people in certain occupations simply cannot continue to work to age 70 and it’s inhuman to expect that they should.



continue reading


The top-selling-souvenir from every country in the world

Do you buy souvenirs to remember your overseas holidays? If so, we imagine you have been looking at these very...


ACCC to keep a keen eye on travel issues this year

Australia's consumer watchdog expects to have its hands busy dealing with COVID-affected travel complaints this year. In his annual address...


Cruisers turn to superyachts to satisfy their cruise cravings

Typically, Australia is one of, if not, the biggest cruise market in the world. It wasn't so long ago that...


Tassie's top 5 Airbnbs

Tasmania does Airbnbs a little differently. Firstly, many stays boast perfect - or very nearly perfect - ratings. Secondly, there...


The world's first 'museum of hangovers' has opened in Croatia

The Museum of Hangovers - set up, inevitably, by students - is an homage to pounding headaches, alcoholic antics and...


Australian border closure extended until June

Earlier this week, health minister Greg Hunt confirmed that the "human biosecurity emergency period", which enabled the government to place...


International borders could reopen in June 2021

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) is waving a big stick at state and territory governments, with a plan to...


Five epic Aussie adventures

With international travel on pause, there is no shortage of epic adventures for those lucky enough to be stuck Down...