Mortality Beliefs Distorted: Magnifying the Risk of Dying Young

40 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2013

Date Written: February 28, 2013


We explore mortality beliefs by eliciting individual-level belief distributions for participants’ remaining lifespan. Across two independent samples, from Germany and the USA, we find that individuals — while accurately forecasting their life expectancy — substantially overestimate the likelihood of dying young (<50 years) and overestimate the likelihood of reaching very old age (>100 years). In other words, the modes of the belief distributions are relatively accurate, but the tails of the belief distributions are significantly ‘fatter’ than the corresponding tails of distributions obtained from demographic data. Our results are robust to variations in belief elicitation techniques, and to assumptions underlying normative longevity forecasts. The results have implications for a range of questions of economic behavior — including intertemporal choice, consumption smoothing, saving, and risk management.

Keywords: mortality, beliefs, risk perception, judgment

Suggested Citation

Jarnebrant, Peter and Myrseth, Kristian Ove R., Mortality Beliefs Distorted: Magnifying the Risk of Dying Young (February 28, 2013). ESMT Working Paper No. 13-03. Available at SSRN: or

Peter Jarnebrant


No Address Available

Kristian Ove R. Myrseth (Contact Author)

University of York ( email )

Sally Baldwin Buildings
York, North Yorkshire YO10 5DD
United Kingdom

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