The Chances of Living to 100 and Why You Should Care

You may be wondering “Why should I be reading about living to 100 and what does this have to do with me and my personal finances?” Interestingly enough, you do have a good question there. You might be in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s and thinking, “Please Gary, I have so much to worry about, why that subject now?” Well, truth being told here, you probably won’t live to be 100. But what if you do?

Your chances of living to 100 are increasing as time goes by. Here's how to make the best of those chances and the most of your older years.

How many people are living to 100?

Centenarians, once a rarity, are the world’s fastest growing age group. Since 2000 when there were 50,281 of them here in the US, the group has grown by 44% to 72,197 (as of 2014). That makes this age group just about 0.003% in the United State, yes still small, but almost three times as many as there were in 1980 according to a report by CNN in 2016.

Centenarians are setting the gold standard for healthy aging. What can we learn from these pioneers? How can people decades younger apply the centenarians’ longevity lessons to their own lives? These are questions that scientists are investigating and trying to answer these days.

The investigators have discovered that the key to preserving health and vitality lies not in learning how people stay young, but in understanding how they age well. By identifying lifestyle patterns, vitamins, and medications that contribute to aging well, it may help slow down the aging process. Scientists seek to show how all of us can maximize the healthy portion of our lifespan. Based on the research, scientists say seventy-five million people alive today around the world can look forward to their ninth and tenth decades!

Much of making it to your 100th birthday is beyond your control, as longevity is partly dictated by genetics and the medical history and health habits of your parents and grandparents. But there are also some ways (okay, a lot of ways) lifespan can be expanded with life-enhancing practices that you can adopt now!

Why should you think about living a really long time?

I guess the most important reason to think about living to 100 is if you do make it, what kind of quality of life will you be experiencing? All the talk about 70 being the new 50 really doesn’t ring true if you are experiencing poor health and you could have done something that would have prevented that from happening but you just didn’t even try. As one who isn’t in great health (and I’m now 68) I can testify that it isn’t the new 50 for me. So a simple explanation, throwing out genetics and other factors is this:

If I had taken better care of myself when I was younger, I might very well be a lot healthier and happier than I am today.

I have written a number of times about the cost of healthcare nowadays, and I’m not going to dwell on it here today. It’s something that I am sure that you at least hear about often, even if you are very healthy these days. It is something to be familiar with and more importantly something that you can do something about while you are still young and healthy. Taking preventative measures can postpone or even eliminate those extensive financial and physical hardships later on in your life. Maybe even until you reach age 100.

Financial impacts of getting older

When you reach a certain age or health point in your life, you may want or even need to stop working. I’m certain at some point though you will want to do that regardless of age or health. But then, how will you support yourself without a weekly paycheck? How will you cover healthcare, living arrangements, daily expenses, and even fun things like travel and recreation?

That’s why personal finance bloggers like me write about and stress planning for those days long in advance, and we talk about a retirement plan, an emergency fund. and getting some good health and life insurance. What may seem like basic knowledge is routinely ignored by millions of people. Just a simple warning from me today: things will get more expensive every year you live and your ability to earn money to pay for it all will decline as you reach your later years. That’s true for just about everyone around. So, my words to live by are super simple:

Take care of your health now and plan and save for your future and retirement as soon as possible!

What do Kirk Douglas & Olivia de Havilland have in common?

Assuming you know who they are (they’re pretty famous actors in case you don’t), it’s not their Hollywood connection I am talking about here. It’s the fact that they have both reached 100 years old and are still around!

The other night I attended a concert at our local library that featured a show dedicated to the music and songs of Dean Martin. I have been a long-time fan of his music and fondly remember as far back as his days with Jerry Lewis and of course his hit TV shows years later. There are also all of the movies too. This year, had he survived, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday. Then it occurred to me that my own Dad was born in 1917 and he would have been 100 had he still been alive too. So I got to thinking about all of the others that would now be 100 had they lived until now.

Here’s a short list of famous people that would be 100 if alive today!

  • President John F. Kennedy
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Raymond Burr
  • Indira Gandhi
  • Buddy Rich
  • Gene Rayburn
  • Desi Arnaz
  • Lena Horne
  • Phyllis Diller
  • Dizzy Gillespie
  • Andrew Wyeth
  • Ernest Borgnine

Those people all played a big part of my memories growing up from music to comedy and from film and TV to politics. Do you remember shows like “Ironsides” and “McHale’s Navy” and “Match Game”?

Just in case you didn’t know, there are still several all-time favorites edging their way to 100 these days. Names I am sure you all know like Dick Van Dyke now 91, Carl Reiner now 95, Mel Brooks age 92, and Norman Lear now 95. “Let’s Make A Deal’s” Monty Hall just passed away at age 96 on September 30th. Maybe that is some proof that a good laugh and sense of humor contributes to a long and happy healthy life.

A quick list to stay healthy and living longer

I’m no doctor, but here’s a quick list of things I’ve found to help you stay healthy.

  • Laugh and enjoy life
  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat fiber from whole grains
  • Get enough sleep
  • Don’t fear getting older
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Keep active
  • Get an annual check-up with your doctor
  • Have a purpose in life
  • Have a dose of antioxidants daily
  • Limit alcohol
  • Avoid excess sugar and salt
  • Eat fish every week
  • Reduce your stress levels
  • Find a life partner or friend to share with
  • Stay optimistic, but realistic

Final Thoughts

You may have already drawn the conclusion that living to 100 may not be very likely, even if you stay hopeful. But, the important part of it all is being prepared for the “what if” moments in life and what if you live to be 100? If you make each day important and never just assume things about your health and welfare, your chances of living a longer, happier and healthier life will improve dramatically!

Do you spend time thinking about growing older and what your life may be or could be like? Is your health a concern and is your financial health a problem along with your physical health? What can you do right now to help improve both situations? Do the words of someone like me who has experienced health problems make a difference in how you prepare for your future?


  1. As we get old, you can’t help but think about these topics. I’ve seen a change in the way my body handles sickness and injury now that I’m in my 40s. The uncertainty of healthcare over the last several years has put a spotlight on it too. I like the proactive approach. I want to be as healthy as possible, this will hopefully keep me alive longer and lower my medical bills over the years.

  2. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    I think that’s all good advice for aging, Gary, although I’m not even sure I want to make it to 100.

    I would say that the 2 relatives I have that have made it to 100 tend to be strong-minded and independent in spirit. They are both well-known for telling things exactly as they see them.

  3. Ric Edelman (a financial guru/portfolio manager with a radio show, for those who don’t know him) wrote an interesting book called The Truth About Your Future: The Money Guide You Need Now, Later and Much Later. It’s about what exponential technologies and advancements mean for our future. He believes young people should plan to live to 110 or 120.

  4. I’m 31 and I think the biggest challenges now are avoiding junk food and remaining active. Our diets have changed a lot since the current crop of centenarians were born in 1917 (or earlier).

    Twinkies were not created until 1930 and think of all the other convenience foods that have come around since then. I’m hoping other readers can shed some light on this matter, but, when did gas stations become more focused on selling food, snacks, and coffee than gas and other services?

    As a child, I can remember some gas stations still letting you get an oil change. I know some still exist, but, I will be curious to see how the Gen-Xers and Millennials (my generation) live to be. I also wonder if there will be a correlation between organic vs. conventional food.

    Lots of questions, and yes, my wife and I are planning to live to be 100 mentally and financially.

    1. You are absolutely right, Josh. The abundance of non-healthy foods in our diet have certainly contributed to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and just a general poor health in the 20th century. I’m guilty of eating poorly myself and I think that has contributed greatly to my health problems over the years. Quite a few younger people are developing much better eating habits, especially with the popularity of places like Whole Foods. That can only help them fight off potential diseases related to poor eating habits. The only related problem I see, of course, is that the expense of eating healthier is not something everyone can easily afford. Thanks for your input.

  5. Prudence Debtfree

    I have often thought about the longer lives people are living on average these days. It makes me think about finances in later years. While I’m hoping to retire before 60, I’m planning to live frugally in retirement so that there’s a good income still around when I’ll need it most. My mother is in a retirement home now, and it’s really lovely – and fairly pricey. She is very fortunate to have no trouble affording it. Then again, she and my dad set it up that way – with a very frugal lifestyle among other things. The longer we live, the more important our provision for our “golden years”.

    1. Prudence, you have summed up precisely what impact living longer can have on your finances. Being frugal and maintaining that type of philosophy is a good idea at any age, but definitely more necessary in your later years. It sounds like you’ve had a good example set for you by your parents. I appreciate your comments.

  6. Wow – I had no idea the centenarian group was growing!That’s interesting!! I have a huge family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., but my doc says I should continue to avoid it if I continue eating well, exercising, etc. But it’s not easy. We’re doing a whole foods week this week and I’m seriously craving chips and sugar. 🙂

    1. Family history has an impact on potential longevity, that is true. But as you are taking action to try to combat that history with better eating habits and exercise, you are to be commended. The craving part never goes away I can tell you from my own personal experience and millions of other people too, but keep reminding yourself of your goal and I’m sure you can do it.

    1. The beauty part of planning, Brad, is that you can regularly revise your plan and it totally makes sense to do it. That’s just a good practice whether it’s planning to stretch your money to live a longer life, or anything you’re planning to do that has long term implications. You already have a head start if you planned to live to 97, so good luck with it!

  7. I heard this story on the radio the other day about laughter’s role in health. It’s a real thing… Not just a cliche much to my surprise! And your body can’t tell the difference between real and fake laughing, so instead of fake it till you make it, maybe we can fake it until we live to be 100. 🙂

  8. Jack

    On my father’s side, his parents averaged 65, so not much longevity hope for me there. My maternal grandparents on the other hand hit 99 and 101. I’m hoping I take more after my mother’s side of the family!

    Both my parents bought long term care insurance to help supplement social security and Medicare in case they end up spending a significant amount of time in some sort of assisted living situation. Hopefully that won’t be completely unaffordable by the time I’m approaching retirement age…

    1. Long term care insurance, which became very popular only in the last 20 years, is definitely something that people should consider long before retirement. There is some debate on whether or not it is a necessity, but the only alternative to LTC is to have an ample savings available for healthcare in case serious illness strikes you in your retirement years. The sooner you buy a policy, the less expensive it is, so it’s a decision that needs to be made when you’re still younger and healthy. Thank you, Jack, for sharing your story.

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