Centenarians Vote for FDR and Reagan in Sixth Annual UnitedHealthcare 100@100 Survey

November 08, 2011

With the next presidential election a year away, a new survey finds that the political views of the nation’s oldest generation are similar to those of the rest of the country: divided. When asked which president from their lifetime they would most like to bring back to address the nation’s current challenges, 43 percent of centenarians selected a Democrat, and 38 percent chose a Republican, echoing the general population’s split opinions on which political party can better identify solutions to today’s hot-button issues.

The centenarians were surveyed as part of the sixth annual 100@100 survey, conducted by UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) company. The survey examined the secrets to longevity among 100 Americans aged 99 and older and revealed their opinions on a wide range of issues, from politics and health care to technology.

Centenarians are one of the fastest-growing segments of the population. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there were nearly 72,000 centenarians in the country as of late 2010. The agency projects that number will swell more than eight-fold to 601,000 by 2050. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 13,000 centenarians through its portfolio of Medicare plans.

Centenarians Divided Along Party Lines, Expect Medicare Benefits to Weaken
When asked which president from their lifetime they would like in power to navigate the critical issues facing the country, equal majorities (25 percent) chose Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and Republican Ronald Reagan. Four percent chose current President Barack Obama, but none selected his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The survey also addressed one of the topics currently at the center of congressional debate – the sustainability of Medicare. Survey participants appear to feel they were born at the right time when it comes to health care coverage through Medicare. While more than 70 percent indicate the coverage and benefits they’ve received through Medicare have met or exceeded their expectations, more than half (51 percent) believe that future beneficiaries will receive fewer benefits and less coverage.

Fitness, Family and Faith Matter More than Fortune When it Comes to Longevity
Centenarians surveyed expressed greater unity on the subject of longevity as it relates to personal health and well-being. When asked about their “secrets” to living a long life, lifestyle was the most popular choice, selected by 35 percent of respondents. Just over a quarter (27 percent) attributed their longevity to their genes and 23 percent to their faith. Only 9 percent said that good luck was the primary reason they have reached the century milestone.

While 87 percent of those surveyed did not expect to reach the age of 100, nearly half (47 percent) made a conscious choice at some point in their lives to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to live a long life. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) made that choice back in their childhood or teen years, but about one in five (17 percent) did not begin adopting healthier lifestyles until they were in their 50s or older. The factors centenarians cited as contributing to their successful aging included getting enough rest (88 percent), eating a healthy diet (87 percent), limiting alcohol consumption (83 percent) and not smoking (78 percent).

"This year’s 100@100 survey participants reflect what we know to be true about aging: lifestyle plays a critically important role not just in the number of years we live but in the quality of those years as well,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. “The survey findings reinforce that a long life is possible and that purpose, happiness and healthy lifestyle choices are important pieces of the longevity puzzle."

Additional 2011 UnitedHealthcare 100@100 Survey findings include:

  • Their first half-century was apparently their best: given the chance to relive one decade all over again, half of these centenarians pick the 1950s or earlier. The ’50s (18 percent) are the top pick, followed by the ’20s (12 percent), ’40s (10 percent) and ’30s (9 percent).
    • Centenarians show little interest in going “Back to the Future” – the ’80s was chosen by only one respondent, making it the least popular choice.
  • The surveyed centenarians understand the value of family. When asked what advice they would give to the oldest baby boomers turning 65 this year, 40 percent recommended that new retirees spend more time with family.
    • 24 percent suggested that taking better care of their health should be a priority during the “golden years.”
    • Saving more money was the best piece of advice that 14 percent of centenarians would give to those reaching retirement age.

Never Too Old for the Digital Age:

  • More than 13 percent of surveyed centenarians have access to the Internet. Some of these plugged-in centenarians are downloading music (15 percent) and watching TV shows (31 percent), but the most popular online activity is looking up information (54 percent), followed by using email and viewing or sharing photos with family and friends (46 percent each).
  • Almost 8 percent of respondents have listened to music on an iPod or other type of MP3 player, and 2 percent have used an iPad or other type of tablet computer.
  • While these centenarians are clearly attuned to the latest technologies, 44 percent say that the electric refrigerator had the greatest positive impact on the way they lived their lives.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

  • Centenarians were asked which of 10 celebrities they would invite to a family dinner. The most popular dinner guest was Betty White (61 percent), placing ahead of her fellow octogenarian Queen Elizabeth (53 percent) and another famous royal, Prince William (42 percent).
  • Oprah Winfrey (41 percent) and Barack Obama (41 percent) place just behind Betty White and members of the royal family, but far ahead of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (14 percent).
  • 23 percent would say “You betcha!” to having Sarah Palin join their family dinner; about the same number (22 percent) would tell Donald Trump, “You’re invited!”
  • 70-year-old Bob Dylan may be famous for “Blowin’ in the Wind” in his youth, but most of these centenarians would leave him standin’ on the doorstep during their family dinner. Only 10 percent would want Dylan to join the festivities. Lady Gaga (6 percent) would get an even chillier reception.

Complete survey results are available here.

About the Survey:

GfK Roper interviewed 100 centenarians (aged 99 and older at the time of the interview) by telephone July 14-29, 2011, obtained from a non-probability sample of older Americans. The poll did not include older respondents whose potentially frail condition would not allow them to participate in a telephone interview. Therefore, the responses from these centenarians should be interpreted as being indicative (not statistically representative) of the views of healthy and articulate Americans in this age range.

About UnitedHealthcare:
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people nationwide live healthier lives by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. The company offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 650,000 physicians and care professionals and 5,000 hospitals nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 38 million people and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group, a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company. 

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