The human population could break longevity records in the next few decades, according to a study based on cohort data from 19 industrialised countries - including Spain - that cover records from as far back as the 19th century. Throughout history, mortality has tended to compress, with occasional episodes of delayed mortality, something the authors say suggests that we are still far from maximum human longevity. The research, published in PLoS ONE, points out that cohorts born from 1900 to 1950 will only be able to break longevity records if policies continue to support the health and well-being of older people, and if the political, environmental and economic environment remains stable.
This study addresses a very interesting topic: How long can we live? Specifically, the authors examine whether there is an age 'barrier' that humans cannot surpass.
The paper is innovative in that the authors use cohort data (mortality data based on individuals born in the same year) to determine the existence of this 'age barrier' based on antagonistic demographic phenomena of delayed and compressed mortality at older ages.
The results suggest that:
- There is no fixed age limit to human lifespan.
- The longevity record is likely to be broken in the coming decades.
However, this second result is strongly based on the model used for the statistical analysis. Furthermore, the authors only analyse data for ages between 50 and 100, and extrapolate mortality patterns to ages over 100, so there is much uncertainty as to whether the longevity record will be broken in the near future. To put this in context, the currently validated record for the longest-lived person in the world is held by Jeanne Calment of France, who lived 122 years and 164 days.
Spain is among the longest-living countries in the world with a life expectancy at birth of approximately 85 years for women and 80 years for men. This study (among many others) indicates that life expectancy continues to increase in Spain as in other European countries. This pattern has fundamental consequences for the sustainability of pension systems as future generations will live longer and therefore receive pensions for more years.
To counteract this effect, countries such as Denmark and Finland have passed reforms to raise the retirement age in line with the increase in life expectancy. It is essential to analyse the possibility of applying this type of policy in Spain, which aims to mitigate the effects of ageing based on scientific evidence.