In September, a man who lived in a remote African village passed away at the ripe old age of 127. If validated and officially recognized, that would make him the oldest person to have ever lived according to scientific record.
This feat of longevity would overtake Jiroemon Kimura from Japan, the previous male record holder who died in 2013 at the age of 116, as well as the current overall world record holder, Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122.
Will longevity records continue to be broken in the future or have we reached the summit of human lifespan? That’s what two separate groups of statisticians decided to investigate.
Not surprisingly, there is no agreement among researchers when it comes to the maximum length of human lifespan. Some suggest there are biological constraints that put an upper limit on how long humans can live. Others are more optimistic; they don’t believe there is any fixed ceiling. They point to emerging drugs and therapies as well as the unlimited potential for future scientific breakthroughs.
Experts at the University of Washington turned to a statistical model to determine the greatest age any human is likely to achieve by the end of the century.
One in Eight Chance of Reaching 130 By 2100
The statisticians took their data from the International Database on Longevity. This provides validated information on individuals from 13 countries who have reached the age of 110 and beyond (supercentenarians) and others between 105 and 109 (semi-supercentenarians).
Using data on supercentenarians only, they projected the probabilities for the maximum age at death by the year 2100.
The good news is that they determined there is almost a 100 percent chance that the current official maximum age of 122 will be broken (their research was published in July before the latest news from Africa, so they may already be proven correct).
There’s an 89 percent likelihood of reaching 126, a 44 percent chance of surviving to 128 and a 13 percent chance someone will attain the age of 130. Reaching 135, according to their analysis, is “extremely unlikely”.
Since this is a purely statistical model the researchers believe there would have to be an expanding world population to create more supercentenarians to reach new longevity limits beyond the age of 130.
That’s because once a person reaches the age of 110, the probability of reaching 111 is the same as a 114-year-old living another year, which is about 50 percent.
Study co-author Adrian Raftery expands on this finding, saying, “It doesn’t matter how old they are, once they reach 110, they still die at the same rate.
“They’ve gotten past all the various things life throws at you, such as disease. They die for reasons that are somewhat independent of what affects younger people.
“This is a very select group of very robust people.”
A second study on the same theme came to much the same conclusion, but with the added possibility of living well beyond this.
The Potential For an Even Longer Life
The group from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne used the same International Database on Longevity for their research but also included semi-supercentenarians. Then, they also added another dataset from Italy. The Swiss researchers agreed with the findings from Washington.
Professor of statistics Anthony Davison said, “Beyond age 110, one can think of living another year as being almost like flipping a coin. If it comes up heads, then you live to your next birthday, and if not, then you will die at some point within the next year.”
His colleague Dr. Leo Belzile added, “The more people tossing a coin, with a 50 percent chance of surviving each year after they turn 110, the more we can expect that someone will have a lucky streak and get to the age of 130.”
But they also held out hope that humanity’s chances of seeing the age of 130 could be much greater than a stroke of luck. Extrapolating from their findings they wrote that it’s “implausible that there is an upper limit to the human lifespan of 130 years.”
And with the dramatic advances being made in science and technology, it’s entirely possible that someone will see their 130th birthday sometime in the future.