, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 713–728 | Cite as

Human life is unlimited – but short

  • Holger RootzénEmail author
  • Dmitrii Zholud
Open Access


Does the human lifespan have an impenetrable biological upper limit which ultimately will stop further increase in life lengths? This question is important for understanding aging, and for society, and has led to intense controversies. Demographic data for humans has been interpreted as showing existence of a limit, or even as an indication of a decreasing limit, but also as evidence that a limit does not exist. This paper studies what can be inferred from data about human mortality at extreme age. We find that in western countries and Japan and after age 110 the risk of dying is constant and is about 47% per year. Hence data does not support that there is a finite upper limit to the human lifespan. Still, given the present stage of biotechnology, it is unlikely that during the next 25 years anyone will live longer than 128 years in these countries. Data, remarkably, shows no difference in mortality after age 110 between sexes, between ages, or between different lifestyles or genetic backgrounds. These results, and the analysis methods developed in this paper, can help testing biological theories of aging and aid confirmation of success of efforts to find a cure for aging.


Extreme human life lengths No influence of lifestyle on survival at extreme age No influence of genetic background on survival at extreme age Future record ages Supercentenarians Jeanne Calment Limit for human life span Force of mortality Size-biased sampling IDL GRG 

AMS 2000 Subject Classifications

62P10 62N01 



We thank Anthony Davison, Jutta Gampe, Olle Häggström, Peter Jagers, Niels Keiding, Steve Marron, Thomas Mikosch, Olle Nerman, and an associate editor for comments. Research supported by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, grant KAW 2012.0067.

Supplementary material (283 kb)
(Electronic Supplementary material(zip) 284 KB)


  1. Aarssen, K., de Haan, L.: On the maximal life span of humans. Math. Popul. Stud. 4, 259–281 (1994)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen, P., Borgan, O., Gill, R., Keiding, N.: Statistical Models Based on Counting Processes. Springer Verlag, New York (1993)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  3. Antero-Jacquemin, J., Berthelot, G., Marck, A., Noirez, P., Latouche, A., Toussaint, J.-F.: Learning from leaders: Life-span trends in olympians and supercentenarians. J. Gerontol. Biol. Sci. Med. Sci. 70, 1–6 (2014)Google Scholar
  4. Beirlant, J., Goegebeur, Y., Segers, J., Teugels, J.: Statistics of Extremes: Theory and Applications. Wiley, Chichester (2004)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  5. Coles, S.G.: An Introduction to Statistical Modeling of Extreme Values. Springer, London (2001)Google Scholar
  6. Couzin-Frankel, J.: A pitched battle over life span. Science 333(8), 549–550 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Danilova, D., Magnus, J.R.: On the harm that ignoring pretesting can cause J. Economet. 122 (2004)Google Scholar
  8. Dong, X., Milholland, B., Vijg, J.: Evidence for a limit to human lifespan. Nature 538, 257–259 (2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gampe, J.: Human mortality beyond age 110. In: H. Maier et al. (eds.) Supercentenarians, Chapter 13, pp. 219–230. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg (2010)Google Scholar
  10. GRG: Gereontology Research Group List of Validated Deceased Supercentenarians. (2016)
  11. Häggström, O.: Here be Dragons, Science, Technology and the Future of Humanity. Oxford University press (2016)Google Scholar
  12. HMD: Human Mortality Database. (2016)
  13. IDL: International Database on Longevity. (2016)
  14. Kalbfleisch, J.D., Prentice, R.L.: The Statistical Analysis of Failure Time Data. Wiley, Hoboken (2002)CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  15. Longo, V.D., Antebi, A., Bartke, A., Barzila, N., Brown-Borg, H.M., Caruso, C., Curiel, T.J.: Interventions to slow ageing in humans: are we ready? Aging Cell 14, 497–510 (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mayo, D.G., Cox, D.R.: Frequentist Statistics as a Theory of Inductive Inference. In: Optimality: The Second Erich L. Lehmann Symposium, vol. 49. Lecture Notes-Monograph Series, Institute of Mathematical Statistics (2006)Google Scholar
  17. Poulain, M.: On the age validation of supercentenarians. In: Maier, H. et al. (eds.) Supercentenarians, Chapter 1, pp. 4–30. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg (2010)Google Scholar
  18. Thatcher, R.A.: The growth of high ages in England and Wales, 1635-2106. In: Maier, H. et al. (eds.) Supercentenarians, Chapter 11, pp. 191–201. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg (2010)Google Scholar
  19. Vaupel, J.W.: Biodemography of human ageing. Nature 464(25), 536–542 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Vijg, J., Campisi, J.: Puzzels, promises, and a cure for ageing. Nature 544, 1065–1071 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Weon, B.M., Je, J.H.: Theoretical estimation of maximum human lifespan. Biogerontology 10, 65–71 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Wilmoth, J.R., Deegan, L., Lundstrom, H., Horiuch, S.: Increase of maximum life-span in Sweden, 1861-1999. Science 289, 2366–2368 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chalmers and Gothenburg UniversityGothenburgSweden

Personalised recommendations