- Using mathematical models, two academics predict generations currently moving into advanced age have a substantial likelihood of pushing the age record back.
- Without offering up a hard number, the analysis predicts a dramatic increase in longevity in the coming decades means that people could live to 120 and beyond.
- This mathematical method based on mortality rate data does not take biological data, such as aging cells, into account.
Don’t let the current data on dropping human lifespans dominate all the headlines. A new study from two insurance professors proposes that not only will we soon be seeing longer lifespans, but humans will also surpass all age records in the near future. Apparently, the longest-living generations are soon to come.
Led by David McCarthy, an assistant professor of insurance and real estate at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, this study—published in PLOS ONE—took a mathematical approach to mortality rates. He and his colleague, assistant professor of risk management and insurance at the University of South Florida Po-Lin Wang, used models to show that the current record human age of 122 years may soon be surpassed.
McCarthy believes the human biological limit has room to increase.
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The study tracked mortality rates in 19 industrialized countries and broke them down not by when people died, but when they were born. The duo found that, starting in the population born after 1910, there wasn’t such a hard-and-fast age where mortality increased alongside age. Instead, mortality seems to be starting to decouple from the aging process.
Human life expectancy is simply a measure of how long people live on average. So, those dying young must be offset by those living longer to increase the average. With the belief—and data to back it up—that there’s an age-related plateau limiting the oldest from living longer, there should be no way to push that life expectancy figure higher. But McCarthy believes that the data from those born between 1910 and 1950 show that plateau may be on the move, and that there isn’t such a sharp cutoff. “As new generations reach these advanced ages,” he says in a news release, “we can expect that longevity records will indeed be surpassed.”
That plateau is called “mortality compression”—where the age of death remains relatively fixed. It’s been a consistent phenomenon for folks born up until the 1900s. But according to the study, “mortality postponement”—where the maximum age at death is on the rise—seems to be more common in those born between 1910 and 1950. This means the oldest people born in that timeframe have a solid chance at stretching their years beyond 120.
“As these cohorts attain advanced ages in coming decades, longevity records may increase significantly,” McCarthy says in the news release. “Our results confirm prior work suggesting that if there is a maximum limit to the human lifespan, we are not yet approaching it.”
There’s a major difference in how McCarthy looks at mortality data and what has been common until now—the calculations used in the study offer the ability to predict future mortality rates instead of only reinforcing present ones.
But however exciting this may sound, it’s still important to remember that this study is purely mathematical, and doesn’t factor in human cells and biological conditions that may limit people’s ability to live uncommonly long lives. Experts tell Live Science this is a key misgiving. “The duration of life is at its heart a biological phenomenon, not a mathematical one,” Stuart Jay Olshanky, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois Chicago, tells Live Science.
Just how far does McCarthy believe this longevity record can go? He doesn’t have a number. But he expects 122 as a record will soon be of a past age.
Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews have included sit-downs with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.