I Did It My Way: Half of 100-Year-Olds Say They Wouldn't Change a Thing About the Way They Lived Their Lives

May 02, 2013
  • Centenarians reflect on the past century, share their insights on life at 100 in eighth annual UnitedHealthcare 100@100 survey
  • Survey compares attitudes, lifestyles of the oldest Americans with those of baby boomers approaching retirement

A new survey finds that a longer life doesn’t necessarily mean a longer list of regrets. When asked what they would have done differently if they knew they would live to 100, 50 percent of centenarians polled in UnitedHealthcare’s eighth annual 100@100 survey answered, “not a thing.”

Baby boomers ages 60-65 aren’t quite so content: only about 1 in 3 (29 percent) say the same thing about their lives so far, while more than a quarter (26 percent) say they wish they had saved more money. Boomers are also more than twice as likely as centenarians to wish they had taken more risks in their lives (12 percent vs. 5 percent).

This year’s UnitedHealthcare 100@100 survey polled baby boomers ages 60-65 in addition to centenarians to examine how the attitudes and lifestyles of Americans entering their retirement years compare to those who have held the title of “senior citizen” for 35 years or more. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 12,800 of the estimated 53,000 centenarians nationwide through its portfolio of Medicare plans. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the centenarian population will swell to more than 600,000 by 2050.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American today lives to be about 80.1 In view of the “additional years” centenarians have lived compared to peers of their generation, the most senior seniors were asked what could have made these extra years of their lives even better. One-third (33 percent) said nothing: It’s as good as they could have hoped for. An equal number (33 percent) wished for more time with their spouse or loved ones. Thirteen percent wished for better health. Only 6 percent said they wish they had more money.

Centenarians are most nostalgic about young adulthood (45 percent), despite the challenges many people associate with this time of life, such as balancing the demands of a career and family. Approaching their 100th birthday was the second most fondly remembered time in centenarians’ lives (12 percent).

“The centenarians in this year’s 100@100 survey show that maintaining a positive outlook isn’t all about focusing on what the future holds,” said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, the nation’s largest business dedicated to the health and well-being needs of seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries. “Reflecting fondly and confidently on the choices they’ve made throughout their lives helps the longest-living Americans maintain a sense of satisfaction and well-being that’s vital to healthy aging.”

When it comes to expectations for one’s own lifetime, nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent) centenarians expected to live to 100. Only about 1 in 5 (21 percent) boomers expects to reach the same milestone.

Centenarians vs. Boomers on Secrets of Physical, Sexual and Emotional Health
Almost all centenarians (98 percent) say that keeping their mind active is a secret to healthy aging, and 100 percent of 60- to 65-year-olds agree. Nearly the same majority (96 percent of centenarians and 98 percent of baby boomers) say that staying mobile and exercising is important. They also agree that physical health is more difficult to maintain as they age, compared with mental health, emotional/spiritual health, social connections and independence.

Despite the difficulty of maintaining their physical health, many centenarians are staying active. More than half say they walk or hike weekly, and more than one-third say they do strength-training exercises at least once a week to stay in shape. Nearly 1 in 5 centenarians say they do a cardio workout indoors one or more times per week.

While nearly all centenarians agree that physical activity is a key to healthy aging, they haven’t come to a consensus on the importance of every type of physical activity: only about one-third (31 percent) say that maintaining one’s sex life is important. Boomers, on the other hand, are more aligned on this topic. Four in 5 baby boomers (80 percent) agree that maintaining one’s sex life is important for healthy aging.

Centenarians and boomers differ on other “healthy habits” as well. Centenarians are more likely than retirement-aged boomers to eat nutritiously balanced meals regularly (86 percent vs. 77 percent), get more than eight hours of sleep each night (66 percent vs. 54 percent), and attend a social event every day (37 percent vs. 28 percent).

The generational differences continue when it comes to some aspects of emotional health. Retirement-aged boomers were more likely than centenarians to say it’s very important to continue to look forward to each day (88 percent vs. 72 percent) and to maintain a sense of purpose (79 percent vs. 57 percent).

In Relationships, Centenarians Prefer “Sameness,” Boomers Toss Tradition
The secrets to a lasting marriage or life partnership depend on who you ask. Centenarians put a greater premium on “sameness” than 60- to 65-year-olds. More than 3 in 10 centenarians (31 percent) say it is very important to share the same political views as your partner; less than 1 in 5 retirement-aged boomers (19 percent) agree. Nearly twice as many centenarians than boomers say it’s very important to have the same hobbies as your partner (40 percent vs. 22 percent). The same pattern holds true for religion – 56 percent of centenarians say partners should share the same faith, compared to 46 percent of boomers.

Boomers are more content to toss tradition aside when it comes to marriage. Less than half say it’s very important to maintain the traditional roles of husband and wife (49 percent, vs. 67 percent of centenarians).

Centenarians and boomers are more aligned on the importance of relationships with friends and family. Both generations agree that friends and family have the biggest impact on their lives and provide them with the most support. Nearly everyone surveyed (97 percent of centenarians and 99 percent of boomers) said that staying close to friends and family is a secret to healthy aging. Indeed, more than 1 in 3 centenarians reports maintaining a friendship for more than 75 years.

These long-lasting friendships are especially impressive considering they were maintained largely without the benefit of modern technology that many people rely on to stay in touch with friends and family, such as cell phones, email and social media. A landline phone is still the most popular method of communication for centenarians and boomers, with 90 percent and 94 percent, respectively, reporting that they use it to stay in touch with family and friends. However, nearly half of both groups believe today’s communications technologies, such as cell phones, email and text messages, improve relationships by making it easier to stay connected with others.

Centenarians’ Positive Self-Reflection Doesn’t Extend to Greater Society
While centenarians look back fondly on their own lives, their perspective on the United States and society at large is decidedly less rosy. Nearly 1 in 3 centenarians (and close to half of boomers) surveyed thinks the United States has seen its best days and is on a decline. Additionally, more than 8 in 10 boomers and 6 in 10 centenarians agree with the statement that our society is deteriorating in terms of how we treat one another. Only about 1 in 5 respondents from both groups is more optimistic, saying the United States is continuing to improve and that its best days are yet to come.

When asked to pick from a list, both centenarians and 60- to 65-year-olds chose “respect for elders” and “courtesy” as the top two values they would most like to impart to Millennials in their teens to early 30s. Less than 1 in 10 from either group cited respect for privacy as a top concern.

For Centenarians, Kim Kardashian’s Got Nothing on Betty White
Given the opportunity to invite a list of 18 famous people to a family dinner, both centenarians and boomers put Betty White at No. 1 (60 percent and 75 percent, respectively). This is the fourth year in a row that White has topped centenarians’ lists.

Centenarians are apparently not “Keeping Up” with Kim Kardashian or friendly toward Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. These young celebrities were among the least likely to make it on centenarians’ dinner invite list. In fact, more than half of the centenarians didn’t know who these people are.

Of the public figures they are familiar with, centenarians were most likely to say “no” to dinner with Justin Bieber (50 percent), Paul McCartney (49 percent) and Steven Spielberg (48 percent). Topping boomers’ “no” lists: Kim Kardashian (87 percent), Justin Bieber (80 percent) and Beyonce Knowles (66 percent).

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 780,000 physicians and other care professionals and 5,900 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 40 million people in health benefits and is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified Fortune 50 health and well-being company.

About the Survey
GfK Roper interviewed 100 centenarians (individuals turning 100 this year or older) and 300 boomers (ages 60-65) by telephone from Feb. 20 to March 12, 2013. Centenarians were interviewed using a list of pre-identified respondents in that age category. Boomers ages 60-65 were selected via a randomly dialed sample derived from probability methods, with pre-identified age ranges. The centenarian sample is not weighted, as population targets for this group are not available. The sample of 60- to 65-year-olds was weighted to reflect their demographics in the U.S. population for this age range. The margin of sampling error for 60- to 65-year-olds is plus or minus 6.7 percentage points for a result of 50 percent at the 95 percent confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of 60- to 65-year-olds. The margin of sampling error is higher and varies for results based on sub-samples.

For complete survey results, visit the Newsroom on www.UHC.com.


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