I was recently asked whether my advocacy of indefinite life extension may be undermined by considering the growth rate in life expectancy at the upper end – for instance, for the oldest 10,000 people alive at any given time, rather than for the general population. Mortality for infants and younger adults has surely declined over the centuries, due to safer environments and considerable reductions in infectious diseases, but what about expansion of the upper bound of lifespans?
It turns out that there, too, considerable progress is being made. In July 2009, the New York Daily News reported, on the basis of a study from the National Institute on Aging, that “The number of centenarians already has jumped from an estimated few thousand in 1950 to more than 340,000 worldwide today, with the highest concentrations in the U.S. and Japan”. In addition to being further evidence that the US is not such a bad place for longevity (if one manages to avoid bad health habits and death from car accidents, both of which are more prevalent in the US than in Europe), this is evidence that a dramatic expansion in lifespans is underway for all age groups. Indeed, centenarians are the fastest-growing segment of all. The 2010 US Census found that the number of centenarians in the US grew by 5.8% from 2000 to 2010. In Japan, the number of centenarians rose by 3,300 between 2010 and 2011. This trend shows no sign of abating. While Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997, still holds the greatest longevity record (122 years, 164 days), she was clearly a lucky outlier, and a recent one at that, when one considers a broader historical scale. Statistically, the chances of living longer rise with each passing year. And among human males, the longest-living verified individual, Jiroemon Kimura, died at age 116 years, 54 days, this year (June 12, 2013). I have great hope that his record will be surpassed in the coming years.
Thus, the promise of indefinite life extension is not undermined when considering trends in the upper end of lifespans. There, as with average life expectancy and life expectancy for adults, the growth is apparent.