# Estimate Financial Impact of Risk and Uncertainty for a Living

Posted to Data Sources  |  Nathan Yau

I stumbled across a data table from the Social Security Administration that shows the probability of death. It’s an actuarial life table estimating the probability that you will die within one year given your age.

## What is an Actuary?

Actuaries measure risk and then project how much it will cost a company or a person. There are of course many different types of actuaries, but I think they’re best known for their work with insurance companies. You know the coverage numbers on your health, auto, life, and home owner’s insurance? No doubt those numbers are the result of actuarial science.

## Actuary, the Movie

Whenever I think of actuaries, I can’t help but think of the movie Along Came Polly. It’s about an actuary (Ben Stiller) who takes only very calculated risks and yet he finds his life falling apart. A girl named Polly (Jennifer Aniston) comes along who is polar opposite and the actuary’s life is suddenly flipped.

Anyways, the movie is a complete exaggeration of the profession (I hardly think anyone would ever turn to their actuarial algorithm to calculate whether a relationship will end happily), but nevertheless, its an extremity of the truth.

Back in college, when I was figuring out what the heck to do with my life, I was considering actuarial science. I even took one of the exams, because after all, actuaries can make six-figure salaries. My girlfriend (and now wife) at the time made this comment that stuck with me. “I wouldn’t want to place monetary value on life for my job.”

I haven’t looked back at the profession much since. Do I really want to know things like the probability of my death? Probably not, but if you’re into risk management, then actuarial science might be for you.

• like (I guess) a lot of kids who were ok at maths at school, I considered, and had career advisors suggest a career as an actuary – mostly for the large incomes promised – are they actually real?

Anyway, I digress.

Don’t mean to be a smart alec, but shouldn’t the average american life expectancy arrow point down to the years axis?

Or am I missing something (maybe that’s why I’m not an actuary ;-)

Love the blog BTW

j

• john, thanks for pointing that out! hasty graphics = embarrassment for nathan. i fixed the problem. is there anything else that i screwed up?

• Nice graphics! I shamelessly copied your approach and did the same for the German life table: http://www.scienceblogs.de/zahlenbilder/2008/03/die-sterbetafel-oder-wie-lange-werden-wir-noch-leben.php

• Hey Nathan,

I’ve seen data like this before, but never so clearly presented. Thanks for the info.

-AP