Longevity, productive life, or lifespan of dairy cattle is an important trait for dairy farmers, and it is defined as the time from first calving to the last test date for milk production. Methods for genetic evaluations need to account for censored data; that is, records from cows that are still alive. The aim of this study was to investigate whether these methods also need to take account of survival being genetically a different trait across the entire lifespan of a cow. The data set comprised 112,000 cows with a total of 3,964,449 observations for survival per month from first calving until 72 mo in productive life. A random regression model with second-order Legendre polynomials was fitted for the additive genetic effect. Alternative parameterizations were (1) different trait definitions for the length of time interval for survival after first calving (1, 3, 6, and 12 mo); (2) linear or threshold model; and (3) differing the order of the Legendre polynomial. The partial derivatives of a profit function were used to transform variance components on the survival scale to those for lifespan. Survival rates were higher in early life than later in life (99 vs. 95%). When survival was defined over 12-mo intervals survival curves were smooth compared with curves when 1-, 3-, or 6-mo intervals were used. Heritabilities in each interval were very low and ranged from 0.002 to 0.031, but the heritability for lifespan over the entire period of 72 mo after first calving ranged from 0.115 to 0.149. Genetic correlations between time intervals ranged from 0.25 to 1.00. Genetic parameters and breeding values for the genetic effect were more sensitive to the trait definition than to whether a linear or threshold model was used or to the order of Legendre polynomial used. Cumulative survival up to the first 6 mo predicted lifespan with an accuracy of only 0.79 to 0.85; that is, reliability of breeding value with many daughters in the first 6 mo can be, at most, 0.62 to 0.72, and changes of breeding values are still expected when daughters are getting older. Therefore, an improved model for genetic evaluation should treat survival as different traits during the lifespan by splitting lifespan in time intervals of 6 mo or less to avoid overestimated reliabilities and changes in breeding values when daughters are getting older.