The Human Lifespan Could Continue to Grow Forever

Centenarian birthdays used to be so rare that they were covered in newspapers and radio. In the future, those celebrations may be far more common. In our favor? Modern medicine and technology, and a relatively peaceful climate in much of the world. The population of people age 100 and over has been steadily growing, convincing many scientists that there may not be a maximum age for humans after all.

What Was "Old" Yesterday is "Middle Aged" Today

In the year 1900, the average life expectancy for men was 46.3 years. Women were slightly more lucky, with an average life expectancy of 48.3 years. By the end of the century, the life expectancy had grown significantly, averaging about 75 years for men, and just shy of 80 years for women.

Based on those numbers, it should be no surprise that in the year 1900, centenarians were quite rare. Now, the United Nations estimates there could be upwards of 3.5 million centenarians and supercentenarians by 2050. If that number doesn't blow your mind already, a team of Dutch researchers led by Jan Vijg used mathematical models to predict that by 2070, the average human lifespan could increase to 125 years, causing controversy in the scientific community when they released a paper detailing their study in October 2016.

An Age-Old Argument, or an Old Age Argument?

Contrary to what you might think, the work of Vijg and his team wasn't contested because the number was too staggering, but because, they argued, it is too early to determine the full potential for the average human lifespan to continue to increase over time. To date, at least five other studies have been published that dispute their claims.

Danish demographer James Vaupel, who co-founded the International Database on Longevity, argued Vijg and his team used outdated research, and therefore, their results had no true merit. Scientists at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark also voiced rebuttal arguments.

Still, other scientists maintain that humans have just about maxed out their lifespan now, and that the number of people around age 110 is too small to draw evidence to the contrary. Whatever the true answer may be, scientists of this generation and the next will have many more years to talk it out than their counterparts from a century ago, and possibly even more than they even expected.

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Written by Jamie Ludwig September 6, 2017

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