Being a woman clearly appears to be advantageous for living an exceptionally long life. Ninety-percent of those reaching the age of 115 were female. Image: Max Planck Society
The quest for the modern day Methuselah. A team of researchers tracked down the oldest of the old – people living beyond their 110th birthday.
An international research team has for the first time gathered a database of the oldest people in the world – those who lived beyond their 110th birthday. While searching for these “supercentenarians” and trying to find accurate documentation of their age, the researchers not only collected data for scientific purposes, but also documented the personal histories and wisdom of those who lived more than a century. They have now published their findings and the stories of many of their subjects in the book “Supercentenarians,” which was coordinated by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock/Germany.
How long can humans live? It's a natural question, but age researchers agree that it is now obsolete; there is no upper limit to life expectancy in sight. Scientific data shows that records are being broken every year. Today there is not only a dramatically increasing number of centenarians, but also more and more men and women who live to 110 years old or older – the supercentenarians.
“Investigating very old age has always been difficult for demographers,” says Heiner Maier from the MPIDR. “Science has been plagued by myths and fairy tales.” Most claims of modern day Methuselahs appear promising at first glance, but usually turn out to be unverifiable. Entries in the Guinness Book of World Records aren't reliable either; their validation is often based solely on documents provided by the families of those who reached an advanced age and are not independently confirmed by scientists.
Now, in an ambitious international effort, researchers in 15 nations have spent the last ten years searching their countries for people who reached the age of 110 or more. Together they found over 600 supercentenarians (in the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the United Kingdom and in the Nordic countries). Of the 600, nearly 20 lived beyond 115.
The new data was used to create the International Database on Longevity (IDL), http://www.supercentenarians.org/ . “The IDL is the first reliable record of scientifically verified data about supercentenarians on an international scope”, says Heiner Maier from the MPIDR. “It is the best existing account of mortality beyond the age of 110.”