Scientists Look Again, Still Don’t Find Cap on Human Lifespan

By Mark Barna | June 28, 2018 2:20 pm


What would it be like to live forever? The thought has likely crossed your mind. But you soon sober up — it ain’t going to happen.

Nevertheless, the idea of living longer than your parents and grandparents is not farfetched. Better lifestyles (such as exercising regularly and not smoking) and better medical care have helped increase longevity in developed countries. People who otherwise would have died in their 60s from age-related diseases are living into their 80s and 90s.

Live Long and Prosper

A study published today in Science indicates that people are indeed living longer and that the maximum lifespan for humans has not yet been reached.

Researchers examined records from the Italian National Institute of Statistics, focusing on Italians who lived to age 105 or beyond. Between January 2009 and December 2015, they found 3,836 of them, the oldest being 112 years old. The data allowed for accuracy and precision rarely found in demographic studies of people over 100 years old.

And what they found was that after the age of 105, human mortality seems to hit a plateau. That is, you aren’t any more likely to die at 110 than at 105. It’s a contradictory finding, because mortality ticks steadily upward as we get older at all previous ages. Hit that golden age, a temporal “island of stability” if you will, though, and your odds of surviving stay about the same.

What’s more, those in younger cohorts had slightly lower mortality rates, revealing that those born later had a better chance of living longer, likely the result of improved medical care.

Centenarians are still more likely to die than those half their age, of course, but it does indicate to the researchers that “longevity is continuing to increase over time and that a limit, if any, has not been reached,” writes Elisabetta Barbi, a demography professor at the Sapienza University of Rome, and her colleagues.

Long Life No Guarantee

There are some reasons to be cautious when interpreting these results, of course, including the fact that the study only looked at Italians. Italy is home to one of the world’s famed “blue zones,” a region in Sardinia where people enjoy remarkably long life spans, for reasons that aren’t totally clear. This plateau in mortality might not necessarily hold for those in other countries.

[To read more about “blue zones” and the people that inhabit them, check out our October 2016 cover story “What It Takes to Reach 100”]

It’s also worth remembering that aging studies are subject to a necessary selection effect — mortality might plateau for those already predisposed to be long-lived, but not for others who might reach triple digits thanks to medical advances.

Advances in mortality have been staggering in the past 100 or so years, though. In 1900, an American could expect to live to about age 47, according to a report from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1950s America, men were living on average to age 67 and women to age 73. By 1998, it was age 74 and 80, respectively. Those advances are slowing down, but haven’t stopped yet — though America in recent years has been a rare exception.

A report in 2016 out of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine concluded that maximum human life span was 115 years. People have lived longer; a woman died in France in 1997 at the ripe old age of 122. But those are anomalies.

The Science article suggests it’s too early to limit maximum human life span. “Our results contribute to a recently rekindled debate about the existence of a fixed maximum life span for humans, underwriting doubt that any limit is as yet in view,” the authors write.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Uncle Al

    What would it be like to live forever?” Social Security hit squad.versus bilateral hydraulic Pampers.

    • Dennis

      Very useful comment, added a great deal to the overall topic for sure. The Discover web site would be poorer indeed without your comment on almost every article. Once in a while your comments even have a slight relevance to the article’s information.

      • StanChaz

        In his usual arrogantly convoluted manner he’s probably trying to
        semi-humorously ask whether that dream of a very long life will be worth living.
        We all know that he possesses a dictionary. But there’s no need to hit us over the head with it, repeatedly.
        For the mark of true intelligence also includes the ability to communicate, argue and express oneself both clearly & economically, rather than using words as a cudgel of smug superiority.

  • bwana

    I suspect one could live forever if a time comes when it is possible to upload your total “being” to a nonbiological entity. Then it would simply be a matter of changing out parts as they wear out, replacing memory chips and harddrives, etc.

  • Maia

    We would do well to focus on QUALITY of life, rather than the number of years we can escape being dead.

  • Lorie Franceschi

    Of course this study and information derived from are using today’s knowledge. In even less than a year some discovery might make it for humans to live well past 100.

    • Maia

      See my comment (July 10th, today) on number of years alive vs quality of life.

      • Lorie Franceschi

        How do WE know about the quality of life will be even tomorrow. Some idiot no matter where the us China Russia England France north Korea even israel might launch a Mic and the quality of life will change. With today’s technology living much past 100 your quality of life goes down. I admit that. But with cuter technology we don’t know. Heck my neighbor finally decided on her own to go live in an assisted living apartment. it was her choice. So you never know what will happen in the future.

        • Maia

          Yes, on a personal level, of course. But I was trying to speak to the overall human approach, the scientific direction to take, where to spend resources and attention, etc.

          • Lorie Franceschi

            Again unless we have a time machine, there is no way for us to know. The quality of life may be great. Mid life may be 75.
            Humans may be living on other planets or moons by that time. The resources of Earth won’t be stretched to the breaking point.

          • Maia

            No time machine. Just look around. How are we doing with wise resource use, sustainable forestry and agriculture, clean water and air standards, on and on.

            You say we can’t look ahead, but you’ve just predicted that all will be fine, as we leave the mess behind and move to…Mars?

  • Maia

    What’s more important: staying alive until you are 110 OR staying
    healthy while you are alive, (however long), meaning able to walk
    briskly, write an article on something you love, contribute to your
    community, etc. An understanding of why we age and die is not even
    close, let alone a “solution” to death. But ways of staying healthier
    are known clearly right now. We can apply them ourselves, don’t have to


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