Study indicates no natural limit to life expectancy

DURHAM, N.C. -- The lifespans of people in developed nations are increasing at a remarkably constant rate, suggesting that there is no natural limit on life expectancy, said a Duke University researcher in an article in the May 10, 2002, Science. Data analyzed by the scientists indicate that the maximum human lifespan will reach 100 in about six decades, which policymakers should consider as they make critical resource decisions affecting older adults.

Study co-authors are Duke University research scientist James W. Vaupel, director of the Program on Population, Policy and Aging at Duke's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy; and Jim Oeppen with the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, Cambridge University, England.

In their study, Vaupel and Oeppen reviewed longevity data from developed countries, including Australia, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. They found that life expectancy in such countries is steadily increasing by three months a year, per year.

"The key issue for policymakers to understand from our study is that there appears to be no finite limit to life expectancy," says Vaupel. "This has major implications for social issues such as budget allocations for the old and very old, and projections used to determine future pension, healthcare and other needs."

Vaupel is also head of the Laboratory of Survival and Longevity at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany. The study was funded by the Max Planck Institute and the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

World life expectancy more than doubled over the past two centuries, from roughly 25 years to about 65 for men and 70 for women. Despite evidence to the contrary, "students of mortality blindly clung to the ancient notion that under favorable conditions the typical human has a characteristic lifespan," the authors noted in the article. "Experts have been unable to imagin

Contact: Katharine Neal
Duke University

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