Human Genetics

, Volume 97, Issue 3, pp 319–323 | Cite as

The heritability of human longevity: A population-based study of 2872 Danish twin pairs born 1870–1900

  • Anne Maria Herskind
  • Matthew McGue
  • Niels V. Holm
  • Thorkild I. A. Sørensen
  • Bent Harvald
  • James W. Vaupel
Original Investigation


The aim of this study was to explore, in a large and non-censored twin cohort, the nature (i.e., additive versus non-additive) and magnitude (i.e., heritability) of genetic influences on inter-individual differences in human longevity. The sample comprised all identified and traced non-emigrant like-sex twin pairs born in Denmark during the period 1870–1900 with a zygosity diagnosis and both members of the pairs surviving the age of 15 years. A total of 2872 pairs were included. Age at death was obtained from the Danish Central Person Register, the Danish Cause-of-Death Register and various other registers. The sample was almost non-censored on the date of the last follow-up (May 1, 1994), all but 0.6% had died, leaving a total of 2872 pairs for analysis. Proportions of variance attributable to genetic and environmental factors were assessed from variance-covariance matrices using the structural equation model approach. The most parsimonious explanation of the data was provided by a model that included genetic dominance (non-additive genetic effects caused by interaction within gene loci) and non-shared environmental factors (environmental factors that are individual-specific and not shared in a family). The heritability of longevity was estimated to be 0.26 for males and 0.23 for females. The small sex-difference was caused by a greater impact of non-shared environmental factors in the females. Heritability was found to be constant over the three 10-year birth cohorts included. Thus, longevity seems to be only moderately heritable. The nature of genetic influences on longevity is probably non-additive and environmental influences non-shared. There is no evidence for an impact of shared (family) environment.


Structural Equation Model Genetic Influence Twin Pair Parsimonious Explanation Human Longevity 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne Maria Herskind
    • 1
  • Matthew McGue
    • 2
  • Niels V. Holm
    • 3
  • Thorkild I. A. Sørensen
    • 4
  • Bent Harvald
    • 5
  • James W. Vaupel
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Health and Social Policy, Institute of Community HealthOdense UniversityOdense CDenmark
  2. 2.Centre for Twin and Adoption Studies, Department of PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Genetic Epidemiologic Research UnitOdense UniversityOdenseDenmark
  4. 4.Danish Epidemiology Science Centre at the Institute of Preventive MedicineUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  5. 5.Odense University Medical SchoolOdenseDenmark

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