‘Someone’ will be the first to celebrate her 125th birthday in 50 years’ time

29 June 2017

In about 50 years’ time, a woman will be the first in the world to reach the age of 125, say Dutch researchers. That is ten years older than American researchers concluded last year in the scientific journal Nature: according to that article, humans would have a maximum lifespan of about 115 years. Researchers Joop de Beer, Anastasios Bardoutsos and Fanny Janssen (Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Vidi) of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) and the Faculty of Spatial Sciences at the University of Groningen dispute this. Today, they have published the results of their research in Nature as well.

Elderly Japanese festival dansers in wheelchairs at the Ohara Matsuri dans festival. 3 November 2008, Kagoshima Japan.Photo: wdeon (Shutterstock)

Overall, Japanese women live the longest. The chance that an 85-year-old Japanese woman lives to the age of 118 is one in 450,000, the Dutch researchers calculated. Given that there are more than 450,000 Japanese women who are aged 85, at least one of them can be expected to live to the age of 118. This is older than the age of 115, which the American researchers considered to be the upper limit.

Even greater ages come into view if the rising life expectancy is considered. This will cause the number of female Japanese centenarians to swell considerably. By extension, there is an increased chance that one of them reaches the age of 120 or more. And as life expectancy above one hundred years increase as well, the maximum length of these women’s lives will increase proportionately: to the age of 125 in 2070. This means that a limit on human lifespan is not yet in sight.

Japanese women have held the life expectancy record for three decades. The results of fellow researchers (including Marmot & Davey Smith, 1989) suggest that possible factors are a well-functioning public health system, a diet that includes little saturated fat and a flourishing economy.

Dutch woman unlikely to set record

A related article by De Beer and Janssen on old age among Dutch women appeared in the NIDI bulletin Demos today. Hendrikje van Andel reached the age of 115 in 2005. The chance that at least one Dutch woman born before 1945 will break Hendrikje van Andel’s record is greater than 50 percent, assert the NIDI and University of Groningen researchers.

However, the researchers consider the chance of a Dutch woman breaking Jeanne Calment’s world record this century to be minimal: the French woman passed away in 1997 at the age of 122. She was the longest living human to date whose dates of birth and death are known exactly.

Demographers cite improvements in standards of living and socioeconomic circumstances, as well as developments in the medical sector (Joop de Beer, 2017 – in Dutch), to account for the rise in life expectancy (from 50 to 70 years of age) in the 20th century in Europe and comparable countries. In the first half of the 20th century, cleaner drinking water, better nutrition, hygiene, sewer systems and housing, and all sorts of medical developments led to a notable decrease in child mortality. This figure fell further in the second half of the 20th century due to the development of vaccines. Above all, the decrease in cardiovascular diseases at a later age played an important role: more men have given up smoking cigarettes and cigars.

Additional information

Professor Fanny Janssen (1977) is working on the project ‘Smoking, alcohol and obesity - ingredients for improved and robust mortality projections’. Her research is made possible by funding from the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme Vidi (and Aspasia). For more information on the subject, visit www.futuremortality.com. Dr Joop de Beer is the first author of the article in Nature.

Articles:

  • Joop de Beer, Anastasios Bardoutsos and Fanny Janssen (2017) ‘Maximum human lifespan may increase to 125 years’ (Nature: doi:10.1038/nature22792)
  • Joop de Beer and Fanny Janssen (2017) ‘Wordt het record van de oudste Nederlander snel gebroken?’ (Will the record of the oldest Dutch person soon be broken?) (Demos)
  • Xiao Dong, Brandon Milholland and Jan Vijg (2016) ‘Evidence for a limit to human lifespan’ (Nature 538.7624: 257-259)

Source: NWO