Centenarians: Longevity Unlimited

The band Queen asks “Who wants to live forever?” Good question, especially since more of us than ever before are likely to live beyond 100.

Earlier this year, Scientific American made a bold claim: “There might be no natural limit to how long humans can live — at least not one yet in sight — contrary to the claims of some demographers and biologists.”

There are now 500,000 people worldwide over 100, and the number is expected to soon double, according to the study. The Queen of England has reduced the sending of birthday cards to all the UK centenarians because the group became too large.

Mortality Plateau

According to the article, a team led by Sapienza University demographer Elisabetta Barbi and University of Roma Tre statistician Francesco Lagona, in Rome, found that the risk of death levels off after age 105, creating a “mortality plateau.” At that point, the researchers say, the odds of someone dying from one birthday to the next are roughly 50:50.

According to the article, there may not actually be an age people can no longer live beyond.

This is quite controversial, not only from a biological standpoint, but from a cultural and economic perspective as well. Since the beginning of time, humans have been searching for some form of eternal life — any glimmer of hope that the possibility exists. Death, after all, is a drag.

But is living into our hundreds even a goal worth pursuing? In her New York Times article “Should We Even Want to Live Beyond 110,” writer Amy Harmon probes the happiness quotient of supercentenarians.

Tragedy of Immortality

The key question in all this longevity is: What is the quality of extended life? Stories about the “tragedy” of immortality spring eternal. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels introduced the island of immortals. Unfortunately, the immortals continued to age, becoming more demented and debilitated until they were a great nuisance to everyone else.

“But supercentenarians, as the 110-and-older crowd are known, are remarkably healthy on average until shortly before death,” writes Amy Harmon. “The idea, as longevity researchers will assure you, is to lengthen not life span but ‘health span.’ ” There is some truth to the cliché that “70 is the new 60.”

But can we even afford to live forever? Social Security and private pensions weren’t created with a society full of centenarians in mind.

Our economy also depends on a certain number of people retiring to make room for others to take their place. Not to mention that most people won’t have the retirement savings required to support life much past 100.

In the Harvard Business Review’s article “How Work Will Change When Most of Us Live to 100,”  the writers calculate that if you’re in your mid 40s, then you are likely to work until your early 70s. And if you are in your early 20s, there is a real chance you will need to work until your late 70s — or possibly even into your 80s. “But even if people are able to economically support a retirement at 65…many people may simply not want to do it.”

“While this is wonderful news for humanity, it will bring some challenges too,” according to a Forbes article titled “People Will Live Past 100, Yet Most of Them Won’t Afford it.”

These are just a few of the many considerations for a topic that is one of the most controversial we write about. Let’s discuss in the comments section on the site.



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Michelle Breyer
While working as an award-winning business reporter for a daily newspaper in Austin, Michelle Breyer co-founded NaturallyCurly 1998. NaturallyCurly - which empowers, educates and inspires world for women with curly, coily and wavy hair - into one of the largest media companies dedicated to hair topics. She has written for a number of publications.


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