Measuring subjective survival expectations – Do response scales matter?

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This paper analyzes the test-retest reliability of subjective survival expectations that are elicited on two widely used response scales: an 11-point scale from 0 to 10 and a full percentage scale from 0 to 100. We compare responses of the same individuals in two surveys fielded in the same month. Reliability is evaluated both at the level of reported probabilities and through a model that relates expectations to socio-demographic variables. Test-retest correlations of survival probabilities are between 0.5 and 0.7, similar to subjective well-being. Only 20% of probabilities are equal across surveys, but up to 61–77% are consistent once we account for rounding. Both scales perform similarly in terms of response rates, internal consistency and fifty-fifty answers. Models that analyze all probabilities jointly reveal similar associations between most covariates and the hazard of death in test and retest datasets. Moreover, expectations are persistent at the level of the individual and this unobserved heterogeneity is strongly correlated across surveys (r ≈  0.8-0.9). Finally, we use a calibrated life cycle model to map survival expectations into wealth and labor supply. Wealth accumulation is sensitive to expectations and correcting for rounding substantially improves reliability of simulated wealth profiles. Taken together this evidence suggests that the two elicitation scales yield reliable measures of expectations, especially when aggregated into individual-level subjective survival curves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-156
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior & Organization
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • subjective expectations
  • test-retest reliability
  • life cycle model
  • rounding


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