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Human life is unlimited – but short


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.


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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.

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Correspondence to Holger Rootzén.

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A discussion of this paper will follow in a later issue of Extremes

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

LATool, a MATLAB toolbox for life length analysis. Makes it possible to do alternative analyses. The toolbox consists of three files which are available on, and a data file, data.mat, which can be obtained by logging in to the IDL database at The toolbox may also be obtained by sending a mail to and

(Electronic Supplementary material(zip) 284 KB)

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Rootzén, H., Zholud, D. Human life is unlimited – but short. Extremes 20, 713–728 (2017).

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  • 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