Human longevity

In early 2014, France had over 20,000 “centenarians” (persons aged 100 or over), most of them women. Their increasing numbers and the appearance of a new age group, the “super-centenarians,” aged 110 or over, raise once again the question of the limit of human longevity.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Buffon estimated that a healthy man who had never suffered an accident or illness could live for a hundred years but no longer. Centenarians were extremely rare. However, thanks to improved living conditions and progress in medicine, a few individuals began to reach the ages of 110 and even 115, and the hypothesized maximum life span was revised to 110 and then to 120 years. In 1995, this theoretical limit was pushed even further back when Jeanne Calment a Frenchwoman, celebrated her 120th birthday. When she died in 1997 at age 122, she set a new record for human longevity.

Most centenarians are women

At these advanced ages, women are by far the majority. They account for 90 % of centenarians in France in 2014. On 1 January 2014, 17,602 of the 20,452 centenarians living in metropolitan France were women.

A new "super-centenarian" age group

The probability of living to age 100 is higher now than ever before. According to recent estimates, there may well be 200,000 centenarians in France by 2060, compared with more than 20,000 in 2014 and only a hundred or so in 1900. Since 1980, a new "super-centenarian" age group has become a statistical reality.It includes people over 110 years of age.

Is there a maximum human lifespan?

Until the 1970s, it was generally agreed that the progress achieved since the eighteenth century had simply brought the mean length of life closer to the maximum possible human lifespan (120 years), which was considered to be a fixed biological boundary. Today, some scientists do not rule out the possibility of human beings living up to age150 or even more, if progress in our knowledge of genetics and ageing enables us to slow down or even stop the biological processes involved. But for now, the rise in maximum age at death seems linked above all to the fact that more people are living to very old ages; there is no evidence that a limit to the human life span is being pushed back. As INED demographer Jacques Vallin put it in 2011: “Is there a limit to the length of human life?”.

Sources:

  • INSEE
  • "Is there a limit to human life?", Jacques Vallin, 2011 (vidéo)
  • "Will life expectancy increase indefinitely by three months every year?", Jacques Vallin - France Meslé, Population & Societies, n°473, December 2010