Living Too Long or Dying Too Soon? Exploring How Long Young Adult University Students in Four Countries Want to Live


Young adults in more developed countries can expect to celebrate their 85th, 90th and even their 100th birthdays. Although time horizons have a major influence on behavior and adult development, little is currently known about how young people feel about the prospect of living such long lives. We therefore explored young adults’ preferred life expectancy (how long one wants to live) based on questionnaire data from N = 715 university students in Austria, Norway, Poland and Russia. The countries represented in the sample differ substantially with regard to period life expectancy and the extent to which women outlive men. Overall, participants indicated wanting to live for M = 87.43 years (SD = 14.91), M = 8.12 years longer than they expect to live and M = 13.04 years longer than they think that an average person with the same age and sex will live. There was thus no indication that participants felt that they will live “too long.” There was a 7-year difference between the country subsamples with the highest and lowest PLE, providing first evidence that PLE meaningfully differs across countries. Men wanted to live longer than women in each country subsample. Despite country differences in the extent to which women outlive men, there was no evidence that the magnitude of the gender difference in PLE differed across country subsamples. PLE was also related to young people’s representations of old age and subjective health. Young people who prefer to die relatively young (< 80 years) were much more likely to use tobacco daily and be physically inactive than their peers.

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We gratefully acknowledge Professor Jesus Crespo Cuaresma at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and Anna Gruzdeva at the Northern (Arctic) Federal University, Arkhangelsk, Russia for their help with data collection.


This work was partly supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme (Project Number 262700; Principal Investigator: Vegard Skirbekk).

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Correspondence to Catherine E. Bowen.

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Bowen, C.E., Christiansen, S.G., Emelyanova, A. et al. Living Too Long or Dying Too Soon? Exploring How Long Young Adult University Students in Four Countries Want to Live. J Adult Dev 27, 157–169 (2020).

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  • Subjective aging
  • Life expectancy
  • Health behavior
  • Lifespan development