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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

100 not out

This interesting paper by Roger Thatcher, formerly registrar general and director of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, appeared in Population Trends 96 Summer 1999, pp512, and investigates the causes of the current ‘explosion’ in the numbers of centenaries. It then examines the latest official projections for the future and their implications for the highest ages which are likely to be attained.
The paper contains figures showing the extent of the increase in the numbers of centenaries in England and Wales from 1911 to 1996, and an extract from these figures is shown in table 1.
The author shows that the main reason for the increase in the numbers of centenaries between 1951 and 1996 is an improving survival rate from age 80 to age 100.

Upper limit
The number of centenaries is expected to continue to increase and may reach 39,000 in 2036 and 95,000 in 2066. The paper discusses the question of whether there is any fixed upper limit to the length of human life and concludes that there is no sign of this as yet. The highest verified age so far is 122, which was attained by a woman living in France in recent years. In England and Wales, on the other hand, in recent years the highest verified age at death has ranged between 109 and 115. The author concludes that it can be expected that in the 2080s at least one person in England and Wales will reach the age of 116 each year, but ages above 123 will be very unlikely.
Whether the paper’s predictions will prove accurate or not, I find it of interest to speculate on the causes of death once people have reached such an advanced old age. One theory is that beyond a certain point the human body just decays and people die from decay, rather than from specific diseases. Will scientists ever find a way to halt the decaying process?
This is a readable and well-presented paper which actuaries will enjoy.

Note The paper was reprinted in Population: An English Selection, 13(1), 2001, pp139156, where it was augmented with some cohort tables and a list of the names of the two men and 44 women who died at verified ages 110 and over in England and Wales in 196899.

Chris Lewin is head of UK pensions at Unilever