By incorporating three additional years of data on total U.S. population mortality rates, the SOA now says the average 65 year-old male will live to be 85.8 years, down from last year’s projection of 86.2 years, and the average female can expect to live to be 87.8 years, down from last year’s projection of 88.2.
That could reduce sponsors’ pension liabilities by 1.5 to 2 percent, depending on the specific financials and demographics of a given plan, according to SOA.
Last year’s mortality tables included new Social Security Administration mortality data from 2010 and 2011. The 2016 update to the table, released this week, incorporates 2012 and 2013 data, and preliminary estimates on 2014, according to a release from SOA.
The newest update is part of the Society’s initiative to more regularly assess mortality expectations.
In 2014, SOA released its first update of the table since 2000. Plan sponsors and pension experts voiced concern over that lag, given the implications of longevity projections of sponsors’ contribution requirements, the cost of lump-sum pension payouts, and improved longevity’s impact on variable premium rates to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
When the table was updated in 2014, preliminary estimates from pension consultants put the impact of the improved mortality as high as 10 percent for some pension plans. The 2000 table put life expectancy at 84.6 years for men and 86.4 years for women. By 2014, the projections increased to 86.6 for men and 88.8 for women.
The release of the 2016 table shows the increases projected in 2014 have essentially been reduced by half.
Regular updates comings
According to the report accompanying the newly adjusted table, SOA’s Retirement Plans Experience Committee, which produces the mortality table, will generate annual updates to the table going forward.
“We are building on our commitment to regularly update the mortality improvement scale as new data becomes available,” said Dale Hall, managing director of research for the SOA, in a statement. “It is up to pension plan sponsors, working with their plan actuaries, to determine how to incorporate emerging mortality improvement date into their plan valuations.”
In 2015, the IRS delayed implementing the SOA’s 2014 mortality tables over concerns from plan sponsors and actuaries that the new data was incomplete and would expose sponsors to exceedingly expensive increases in pension liabilities.
In September of 2016, the IRS released its updated static mortality tables for defined benefit plans in 2017, which also used mortality data issued in 2000, and not the updated 2014 table.
Mortality expectations have slowed considerably in recent years. From 2000 to 2009, the annual age-adjusted life expectancy for men increased 1.93 percent, and 1.46 percent for women.
But from 2010 to 2014, annual increases in life expectancy slowed to 0.6 percent and 0.42 percent, respectively.
Between 1950 and 2014, the average annual trend has been a 1 percent improvement in mortality for both genders.
The data since 1950 shows considerable year-over-year volatility in mortality expectations. Mortality improvement rates have routinely fallen since 1950 in some years, and increased more than 3 percent in others.
“The significant fluctuations in the annual pattern of historical U.S. mortality improvement present a challenge to those attempting to model the future pattern of these rates,” SOA’s new report says. “[The Retirement Plans Experience Committee's] goal has been to smooth out the year-by-year fluctuations in a way that neither puts too much emphasis on the most recent history nor completely ignores it.”