Racial and ethnic differences in longevity perceptions and implications for financial decision-making

July 2022

Prior research suggests Covid-19 mortality has, in the U.S., disproportionately harmed those with low income, African Americans, and Hispanics. Have these groups’ subjective survival perceptions changed in a manner consistent with observed outcomes?


Inaccurate perceptions of life expectancy can lead to suboptimal financial decisions with long-term consequences, including undersaving before retirement and overspending during retirement. This study examines whether non-whites’ perceptions of longevity at the outbreak of the pandemic were consistent with observed reality, how these perceptions compared to those of white adults, and whether and how people’s perceptions changed a year into the pandemic.

Key Insights
The gap between subjective survival probabilities and life tables was significantly higher among African Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders compared to whites.
A year into the pandemic, changes in subjective survival probabilities did not differ much by race/ethnicity.
Seeing a vignette reduced subjective survival overestimation among Hispanics, African Americans, and those self-identifying as an “other” race.
African Americans who underestimated their survival chances were most likely to recommend saving more and annuitizing in 2020; in 2021 the effects remained positive but less statistically significant.

The authors designed and fielded two surveys of U.S. adults using Prolific, an Internet-based crowd-working survey platform. The first survey was conducted March through June of 2020. Then in February through April of 2021, 2,298 of the same individuals were re-surveyed. Respondents were age 35 to 83 at baseline, with a mean age of 51.