With this project, we summarized the findings of some of the most significant demographic publications on human longevity. We discuss diverse theories on longevity and place current levels of life expectancy in a historical context. Despite general beliefs of a limit to human longevity, there is a sustained increase in life expectancy since the 19th century. In the countries doing best each year, life expectancy started to increase around 1840 at a pace of almost 2.5 years per decade and this trend has continued in the recent past. If the current pace of progress in life expectancy continues, most children born this millennium will celebrate their 100th birthdays. However, considerable uncertainty clouds forecasts of life expectancy. We discuss possible future development in health and longevity, as well as forecasting approaches and their limitations. As further increase in longevity would bring important social, economic, health, cultural and political repercussions, the development of more powerful methods of forecasting should be a priority.
Figure: Best-practice life expectancy at birth, 1840-2017
Note: Adapted from Oeppen and Vaupel (2002) using the most recent data from the Human Mortality Database.
James W. Vaupel (Coordinator)
AARP, May to December 2019