Flaw in life expectancy theory

28th February 1997 at 00:00
The figures for life expectancy for teachers who retire at various ages (TES, February 14) may give the false impression that a teacher can (marginally) enhance hisher life expectancy by retiring later rather than earlier. Thus, for example, a woman retiring at 60 can expect to live a further 25.8 years compared with 35.4 years if she had retired at 50. Thus, the impression is that early retirement is bad for your health.

The flaw in such reasoning becomes apparent when one remembers that life expectancy is based on averages. Given that some 50-year-olds die before they reach 60, the calculation for the 60-year-old "survivors" is bound to yield an enhanced figure.

If one wanted to find out whether early retirement per se enhanced the average teacher's life expectancy one would need the life expectancy figures for, say, teachers aged 50 who retire, to compare with teachers aged 50 who work on for at least several years.

PHILIP GOGGIN Senior lecturer Crewe School of Education Manchester Metropolitan University

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