One-Third of Americans Regret Major Life Choices, But Many Embrace Newfound Opportunity to “Rechart” Course

MINNEAPOLIS — A sobering third (32 percent) of Americans say they regret the major choices they made in their lives, such as when/where they went to school, the profession they chose and when/where they worked. Yet many embrace the prospect of recharting their course, an opportunity afforded by the fact that Americans today are living longer than ever. According to The Gift of TimeSM,* a new study from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz Life®), more than nine in 10 Americans (93%) expressed having a favorable view of living 30 extra years, which the Stanford Center on Longevity reports is the average increase in life expectancy in the United States compared with 100 years ago. In addition to positive views of a longer life, the study reveals how longevity is making Americans rethink their major life choices, the paths they may take and alternative possibilities for their future.

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The Gift of Time – The Allianz Longevity Project, 2016. (Graphic: Business Wire)

The Allianz Life study of 3,000 Americans found that optimism about longevity extends beyond Americans’ own interests. When asked what increased longevity means for both themselves and the human race as a whole, nearly three-quarters said either “I think it could open a lot of new and interesting possibilities for people’s lives” (49%) or “it’s a wonderful development” (25%). Only 5% of respondents classified living 30 extra years as “terrifying.”

Looking for the Edge: A Desire to be Riskier, Gutsier

While most survey respondents (56%) said they would “travel extensively” or “live in a different place” (35%) with their 30 extra years, nearly a quarter noted they would “take more risks in life,” a common theme among the one-third of Americans who said they regretted many of their major life decisions. Included among those top regrets are not following their dreams (39%), not taking risks with their career (38%) and not taking risks with their lives in general (new jobs, going back to school, etc.) (36%). More than a third (35%) also said they wish they’d been more gutsy in their choices and done things they really wanted to do.

“As Americans come to terms with the fact that they’ll likely live an extra 30 years, they have the opportunity to look back and evaluate their past decisions and consider the newfound possibilities for the future afforded by time,” said Allianz Life Vice President of Consumer Insights Katie Libbe.

“While the concept of longevity is relatively new, its implications are far-reaching and important. In addition to this study, we’re working with Stanford University’s Center on Longevity to create more awareness about this topic and how it impacts financial planning. It’s important for people to understand that alternative life paths are still an option, but they may need to adjust their financial strategy to achieve goals that extend beyond a traditional retirement,” continued Libbe.

Alternative Paths Need Better Planning

Longevity creates opportunity and enthusiasm about alternative life paths that differ from the traditional and linear “school-work/marriage/kids-retirement” track that has been the de facto life template for generations. When asked to design their ideal longer life, nearly half (49%) of Americans said they would prefer a nontraditional model that is unique to their interests – where they might work, take career breaks, go back to school, volunteer and try different things in no set order.

For many Americans, having more time opens the door to new opportunities. Respondents confirmed a desire to explore different life paths: pursuing a dream like starting a new business (29%), having a second career doing something they truly enjoy (21%), volunteering/supporting the environment (19%), or retiring later by working fewer hours but for more years overall (16%). Nearly half (47%) of respondents feel a longer life can enable a totally different view of how and when major life choices are made.

While many Americans are expressing interest in embracing the possibilities of a longer life, they also understand the need for better planning in order to fund those different goals/life paths. More than nine in 10 respondents (93%) agreed that people will need to be more thoughtful about how they plan for longer lives, and the same percentage agreed that major changes would be needed in how people think about funding longer lives. In addition, a full 91% agreed that, with 30 extra years, it’s not enough to just put aside money for retirement – people would need a much clearer, more specific plan that falls outside the confines of traditional financial planning.

“It’s encouraging that many Americans seem to understand that a new paradigm is needed to think about, plan for and fund a longer life,” added Libbe. “By taking short- and mid-term goals into consideration while saving for retirement, people will have more freedom to try different things, pursue their passions and explore alternative life plans.”

More from The Gift of Time

For more information about the study and to see examples of people embracing longevity and choosing their own life path, visit In the coming months, Allianz Life will release additional data from The Gift of Time study. Topics will include, among others:

Long Life and the Money Barrier — Despite embracing the concept of longevity, Americans are not feeling financially prepared to live to 100 and beyond. Concerns about money and a lack of clear planning remain the biggest barriers keeping people from taking risks and following their dreams.

Understanding Generational Attitudes Toward Longevity — The study explores how attitudes and opinions about longevity vary between generations, including Millennials, who stand to both gain and lose the most. The study shows they are the generation most overwhelmed and underprepared to live an additional 30 years, yet their yearning for freedom, adventure and travel give them a unique opportunity to change their paths and take advantage of longer lives.

About Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America

Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, one of FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2016, has been keeping its promises since 1896. Today, it carries on that tradition, helping Americans achieve their retirement income and protection goals with a variety of annuities and life insurance products. In 2015, Allianz Life provided a total of $2.4 billion in benefit payments that supported policyholders’ financial objectives. As a leading provider of fixed index annuities, Allianz Life is part of Allianz SE, a global leader in the financial services industry with 142,000 employees in more than 70 countries worldwide. More than 85 million private and corporate customers rely on Allianz knowledge, global reach, and capital strength to help them make the most of financial opportunities.

*The Allianz Life The Gift of Time study was conducted by Larson Research + Strategy via online survey in March 2016 with 3,000 U.S. adults – including 1,000 baby boomers (ages 52-70), 1,000 Gen Xers (ages 37-51), and 1,000 Millennials (ages 20-36) – with a minimum household income of $30K+ and was commissioned by Allianz Life.

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