Maximum human lifespan: will the records be unbroken?

John R. Wilmoth, University of California, Berkeley
Nadine Ouellette, University of California, Berkeley

If we limit ourselves to cases that have been well verified, the oldest persons who have ever lived – one woman and one man – died in the late 1990s. Jeanne Calment was born in 1875 and died in 1997 at the age of 122.5 years; Chris Mortensen was born in 1882 and died in 1998 at the age of 115.7 years. It seems notable (and perhaps curious) that the world record in human longevity has not been broken for more than 13 years for either men or women. Indeed, this observation may be disconcerting for those who follow such trends closely. Does it raise doubts about the authenticity of those two cases? What is the likelihood that such records would be unbroken by chance alone over this time interval? In general, what is the expected waiting time between the breaking of such records? In this paper, we will attempt to answer such questions by building on our previous work on this topic. In particular, we will extend the model developed by Wilmoth and Robine (2003) to approximate the global trend in the maximum human lifespan, using that model here to estimate the probability of observing new world records over a given time period.

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Presented in Session 8: Life table analysis