Would you want to know how long you’d live? How about if you could do something to extend your days here? Although I’m not sure how I feel about the first question, I do know the answer to the second: By all means, yes!

Your dream (or perhaps your nightmare) has come true: The Death Clock is a site that bills itself as “the Internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away… second by second. Like the hourglass of the Net, the Death Clock will remind you just how short life is.”

“Eek,” I thought to myself — but at the same time I started to answer the handful of basic questions: Date of birth, sex, BMI (body mass index), whether you smoke or not, and your general state of mind (from “normal” to “sadistic”). No, it’s not the most exhaustive or scientific diagnostic, but it’s very fast, kind of fun (if dark humor is your thing), and a good wake-up call.

I answered all the questions truthfully (58, non-smoker, a healthy BMI, and a “normal” outlook on life), and the Death Clock dutifully ran its algorithm.

In seconds the clock revealed what it calls my “personal day of death.” Apparently that’s April 23, 2031, just 15 years from now. I’ll be 73. Egads!

That is—or it was when I took the quiz—481,730,933 seconds away. Tick tock. Tick tock. Yes, I hear you, O Death Clock, especially the warning about “the lethal danger of being fat,” which read: “Excess weight has a dramatic impact on one’s health.” All right, maybe I should reconsider using my Fitbit, which I dissed in last week’s column.

I also played around with the variables to see what I’d learn: If I were female, I’d be given another five years to live. Smoker, minus six. Obese, minus four. And when I checked “sadistic” for personality type, the Death Clock responded bleakly: “I am sorry but your time has expired. Have a nice day.”

I needed a little reassurance that the clock didn’t really know my future quite that well. “Some calculators give exact dates: these shouldn’t be taken very seriously,” Dean Foster, an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told me. “Further, most of your life will be lived in the future, where health care will be getting better and better. So many simple life-table calculations ignore this and so you will likely outlive many life-table calculations.” I asked Foster what someone could do to improve life expectancy, and he responded: “Don’t smoke. That is still the biggest.” Good, as a non-smoker, I feel a little better.

Fortunately, there are more scientific “life expectancy calculators” that ask more of you and provide a more customized result, including the one developed by Foster,the “How long will I live?” tool. After asking the basics plus about a dozen additional questions (about education, income, marital status, fitness, and diet), the calculator ran its program and — hooray! — spit out a much more optimistic result: I’d live to be 90.

I also tried Northwestern Mutual’s Life Expectancy Calculator. Thirteen questions later I got the best result to date—or at least the one suggesting the greatest longevity: 97 years. Of course, Northwestern is an insurance company that helps “people manage risks and achieve financial security,” so I wasn’t completely surprised when I was asked: “Are you financially prepared to live that long?”

Good question. Probably not, but I’m not even I sure I want to live quite that long. As Foster notes, though, “one of the most important uses [of these calculators] is for planning for retirement. You need to plan for the larger end to make sure you don’t run out of money early.”


Three quizzes, three different results: I could live to be 73, 90, or 97. There were definitely some common trends: Smoking is not good for your life expectancy. Exercise and healthy eating matter a great deal. So, too, does your mood. Race, income, and education also play a role in wellbeing and longevity.

I’m left wondering which would be worse: Dying too soon, or so late that I outlive my money. Now I’m worried this will negatively affect my mood… and my lifespan.