A centenarian is a person who lives to or beyond the age of 100 years. Because life expectancies everywhere are less than 100, the term is invariably associated with longevity. A supercentenarian is a person who has lived to the age of 110 or more, something only achieved by about one in 1,000 centenarians. Even rarer is a person who has lived to age 115 – there are only 36 people in recorded history who have indisputably reached this age, of whom only Jeralean Talley, Susannah Mushatt Jones, Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, and Violet Brown are still living. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that there were 316,600 living centenarians worldwide. As life expectancy is increasing across the world, and the world population has also increased rapidly, the number of centenarians is expected to rise fast in the future. According to the UK ONS, one-third of babies born in 2013 in the UK are expected to live to 100.
- 1 Current incidence
- 2 British and Commonwealth traditions
- 3 United States and other
- 4 Religious rituals
- 5 Centenarians in ancient times
- 6 Research into centenarians
- 7 Youngest body part of a centenarian
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
The United States currently has the greatest number of known centenarians of any nation with 53,364 according to the 2010 Census, or 17.3 per 100,000 people. In 2010, 82.8% of US centenarians were female. Japan has the second-largest number of centenarians, with an estimated 51,376 as of September 2012, and the highest proportion of centenarians at 34.85 per 100,000 people. Japan started recording its centenarians in 1963. The number of Japanese centenarians in that year was 153, but surpassed the 10,000 mark in 1998; 20,000 in 2003; and 40,000 in 2009. According to a 1998 United Nations demographic survey, Japan is expected to have 272,000 centenarians by 2050; other sources suggest that the number could be closer to 1 million. The incidence of centenarians in Japan was one per 3,522 people in 2008.
Centenarian populations by country
The total number of centenarians in the world remains uncertain. It was estimated by the Population Division of the United Nations as 23,000 in 1950, 110,000 in 1990, 150,000 in 1995, 209,000 in 2000, 324,000 in 2005 and 455,000 in 2009. However, these older estimates did not take into account the contemporary downward adjustments of national estimates made by several countries such as the United States; thus, in 2012, the UN estimated there to be only 316,600 centenarians worldwide. The following table gives estimated centenarian populations by country, including both the latest and the earliest known estimates, where available.
|Country||Latest estimate (year)||Earliest estimate (year)||Centenarians per
|Australia||4,252 (2011)||1901 50 (1901)||18.75|
|Austria||1,371 (2014)||232 (1990), 1960 25 (1960)||16.1|
|Belgium||1,890 (2014)||1950 23 (1950)||14.24|
|China||48,921 (2011)||1990 4,469 (1990), 17,800 (2007)
|Czech Republic||625 (2011)||2006 404 (2006)||5.92|
|Denmark||889 (2010)||1960 19 (1960)||16.08|
|Finland||566 (2010)||1960 11 (1960)||10.6|
|France||24,214 (1st Jan.2015)||1900 100 (1900)||36.5|
|Germany||17,000 (2012)||1885232 (1885)||21|
|Hungary||799 (2009)||1990227 (1990)||7.98|
|Iceland||17 (1990)||1960 3 (1960)||6.67|
|Ireland||389 (2011)||87 (1990)||8.48|
|Italy||17,884 (2014)||1950 88 (1950)||29.42|
|Japan||54,397 (2013)||1950 111 (1950), 155 (1960)||42.76|
|Mexico||7,441 (2010)||1990 2,403 (1990)||6.62|
|Netherlands||1,743 (2010)||1830 18 (1830)||10.41|
|New Zealand||297 (1991)||1960 18 (1960)||5.92|
|Norway||636 (2010)||1950 49 (1950)||13.1|
|Poland||2,414 (2009)||1970 500 (1970)||6.27|
|Singapore||724 (2011)||1990 41 (1990)||13.7|
|Slovenia||224 (2013)||1953 2 (1953)||10.88|
|South Korea||14,592 (2014)||– 961||29.06|
|Spain||12,033 (2013)||5,891 (2009)||26.44|
|Sweden||1,798 (2010)||1950 46 (1950)||19.1|
|Switzerland||1,306 (2010)||1860 10 (1860)||16.64|
|Thailand||17,883 (2012)||34,784 (2003)||26.80|
|United Kingdom||13,780 (2013)||1911 100 (1911)||21.49|
|United States||53,364 (2010)||1950 2,300 (1950)||17.3|
|World Estimates||316,600 (2012)||1950 23,000 (1950)||4.44|
British and Commonwealth traditions
In many countries, people receive a gift or congratulations on their 100th birthday. In the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms, the Queen sends greetings (formerly as a telegram) on the 100th birthday and on every birthday starting with the 105th. The tradition started in 1908, when the Secretary for King Edward VII sent a congratulatory letter to Reverend Thomas Lord of Horncastle, declaring, 'I am commanded by the King to congratulate you on the attainment of your hundredth year, after a most useful life.' The practice was formalised from 1917, under the reign of King George V.
United States and other
In the United States, centenarians traditionally receive a letter from the President, congratulating them for their longevity. NBC's Today Show show has also named new centenarians on air since 1983. Centenarians born in Ireland receive a €2,540 "Centenarians' Bounty" and a letter from the President of Ireland, even if they are resident abroad. Japanese centenarians receive a silver cup and a certificate from the Prime Minister of Japan upon their 100th birthday, honouring them for their longevity and prosperity in their lives. Swedish centenarians receive a telegram from the King and Queen of Sweden. Centenarians born in Italy receive a letter from the President of Italy. In Japan, a "National Respect for the Aged Day" has been celebrated every September since 1966.
An aspect of blessing in many cultures is to offer a wish that the recipient lives to 100 years old. Among Hindus, people who touch the feet of elders are often blessed with "May you live a hundred years". In Sweden, the traditional birthday song states, May he/she live for one hundred years. In Judaism, the term May you live to be 120 years old is a common blessing. In Poland, Sto lat, a wish to live a hundred years, is a traditional form of praise and good wishes, and the song "sto lat, sto lat" is sung on the occasion of the birthday celebrations—arguably, it is the most popular song in Poland and among Poles around the globe. Chinese emperors were hailed to live ten thousand years, while empresses were hailed to live a thousand years. In Italy, "A hundred of these days!" (cento di questi giorni) is an augury for birthdays, to live to celebrate 100 more birthdays. Some Italians say "Cent'anni!", which means "a hundred years", in that they wish that they could all live happily for a hundred years. In Greece, wishing someone Happy Birthday ends with the expression να τα εκατοστήσεις (na ta ekatostisis), which can be loosely translated as "may you make it one hundred birthdays".
Centenarians in ancient times
While the density of centenarians per capita was much lower in ancient times than today, the data suggest that they were not unheard of. However, ancient demographics are biased in favor of wealthy or powerful individuals rather than the ordinary person. Grmek and Gourevitch speculate that during the Classical Greek period, anyone who lived past the age of five years – surviving all the common childhood illnesses of that era – had a reasonable chance of living to a relatively old age. Life expectancy in 400 BC was estimated to be around 30 years.[where?] One demographer of ancient civilizations reported that Greek men lived to 45 years on average (based on a sample size of 91), while women lived to 36.2 years (based on a sample size of 55). Notably, the gender statistics are inverted compared to today – childbirth at the time had a far higher mortality rate than in modern times, skewing female statistics downward. It was common for average citizens to take great care in their hygiene, Mediterranean diet and exercise, although there was much more male trauma per capita than today, due to military service being virtually universal for citizens of Ancient Greece. This also biased the statistics for men downward.
Diogenes Laertius (c. AD 250) gives one of the earliest references regarding the plausible centenarian longevity given by a scientist, the astronomer Hipparchus of Nicea (c. 185 – c. 120 BC), who, according to the doxographer, assured that the philosopher Democritus of Abdera (c. 470/460 – c. 370/360 BC) lived 109 years. All other ancient accounts of Democritus appear to agree that the philosopher lived at least 90 years. However, such longevity would not be dramatically out of line with that of other ancient Greek philosophers thought to have lived beyond the age of 90 (e.g. Xenophanes of Colophon, c. 570/565 – c. 475/470 BC; Pyrrho of Ellis, c. 360 - c. 270 BC; Eratosthenes of Cirene c. 285 – c. 190 BC). The case of Democritus differs from those of, for example, Epimenides of Crete (7th and 6th centuries BC), who is said to have lived an implausible 154, 157 or 290 years, depending on the source.
Numerous other historical figures were reputed to have lived past 100. The sixth dynasty Egyptian ruler Pepi II is believed by some Egyptologists to have lived to 100 or more (c. 2278 – c. 2184 BC), as he is said to have reigned for 94 years. However this is disputed: others say he only reigned 64 years. Hosius of Córdoba, the man who convinced Constantine the Great to call the First Council of Nicaea, reportedly lived to age 102. The Chronicon of Bernold of Constance records the death in 1097 of Azzo marchio de Longobardia, pater Welfonis ducis de Baiowaria, commenting that he was iam maior centenario. Ultimately, there is no reason to believe that centenarians did not exist in antiquity, even if they were not commonplace.
Research into centenarians
Research in Italy suggests that healthy centenarians have high levels of both vitamin A and vitamin E and that this seems to be important in causing their extreme longevity. Other research contradicts this, however, and has found that this theory does not apply to centenarians from Sardinia, for whom other factors probably play a more important role. A preliminary study carried out in Poland showed that, in comparison with young healthy female adults, centenarians living in Upper Silesia had significantly higher red blood cell glutathione reductase and catalase activities, although serum levels of vitamin E were not significantly higher. Researchers in Denmark have also found that centenarians exhibit a high activity of glutathione reductase in red blood cells. In this study, the centenarians having the best cognitive and physical functional capacity tended to have the highest activity of this enzyme.
Other research has found that people whose parents became centenarians have an increased number of naïve B cells. It is well known that the children of parents who have a long life are also likely to reach a healthy age, but it is not known why, although the inherited genes are probably important. A variation in the gene FOXO3A is known to have a positive effect on the life expectancy of humans, and is found much more often in people living to 100 and beyond - moreover, this appears to be true worldwide.
Men and women who are 100 or older tend to have extroverted personalities, according to Thomas T. Perls, the director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University. Centenarians will often have many friends, strong ties to relatives and high self-esteem. In addition, some research suggests that the offspring of centenarians are more likely to age in better cardiovascular health than their peers.
According John W. Santrock's book A Topical Approach to Life-Span Development, there are five factors that research has suggested are most important to longevity in centenarians:
- heredity and family history
- health, i.e. weight, diet, whether or not a person smokes, amount of exercise
- education level
Santrock's book also noted that the largest group of centenarians are women who have never married. Also, people who have been through traumatic life events learn to cope better with stress and poverty and are more likely to reach age 100.
Many experts attribute Japan's high life expectancy to the typical Japanese diet, which is particularly low in refined simple carbohydrates, and to hygienic practices. The number of centenarians in relation to the total population was, in September 2010, 114% higher in Shimane Prefecture than the national average. This ratio was also 92% higher in Okinawa Prefecture. In Okinawa, studies have shown five factors that have contributed to the large number of centenarians in that region:
- A diet that is heavy on grains, fish, and vegetables and light on meat, eggs, and dairy products.
- Low-stress lifestyles, which are proven significantly less stressful than that of the mainland inhabitants of Japan.
- A caring community, where older adults are not isolated and are taken better care of.
- High levels of activity, where locals work until an older age than the average age in other countries, and more emphasis on activities like walking and gardening to keep active.
- Spirituality, where a sense of purpose comes from involvement in spiritual matters and prayer eases the mind of stress and problems.
Although these factors vary from those mentioned in the previous study, the culture of Okinawa has proven these factors to be important in its large population of centenarians.
Centenarian controversy in Japan
The number of Japanese centenarians was called into question in 2010, following a series of reports showing that hundreds of thousands of elderly people had gone "missing" in the country. The deaths of many centenarians had not been reported, casting doubt on the country's reputation for having a large population of centenarians.
In July 2010, a centenarian listed as the oldest living male in Tokyo, registered to be aged 111, was found to have died some 30 years before; his body was found mummified in its bed, resulting in a police investigation into centenarians listed over the age of 105. Soon after the discovery, the Japanese police found that at least 200 other Japanese centenarians were "missing", and began a nationwide search in early August 2010. This incident led to growing concerns that Japan's welfare system can be exploited by unscrupulous family members keen to continue receiving benefits after the pensioners die. In one case, the remains of a mother thought to be 104 had been stuffed into her son's backpack for nearly a decade; in another, a man received around 9.5 million yen in pension payments despite his wife having died six years previously.
Youngest body part of a centenarian
By measuring the biological age of various tissues from centenarians, researchers may be able to identify tissues that are protected from aging effects. According to a study of 30 different body parts from centenarians and younger controls, the cerebellum is the youngest brain region (and probably body part) in centenarians according to an epigenetic biomarker of tissue age known as epigenetic clock: it is about 15 years younger than expected in a centenarian.  These findings could explain why the cerebellum exhibits fewer neuropathological hallmarks of age related dementias compared to other brain regions.
Additional research: Media references
Centenarians are often the subject of news stories that focus on the fact that they are over 100 years old, like an elderly person receiving a speeding ticket for example Other than the typical birthday celebrations, these reports provide researchers and cultural historians with evidence as to how the rest of society views this elderly population. Some examples:
- Seattle forces 103-year-old to sell parking lot so city can turn it into — a parking lot
- 102-year-old man sells rare coin collection for $23M at NYC auction
- 101-year old rescued from the Nepal earthquake in 2015
- Food preferences in older adults and seniors
- Life extension
- Lists of centenarians
- New England Centenarian Study
- Okinawa Centenarian Study
- Oldest people
- Queensland Community Care Network, which operates the centenarians-only 100+ club
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- "Chapter 1: Setting the Scene" (PDF). UNFPA. 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
- Meyer, Julie (December 2012). "Centenarians: 2010" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
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Note: Overreported figures, the actual number is around 7 centenarians. The registration of deaths in the period 1948-1994 is considered less than 90% complete, see this table, thus a number of deceased are still included in the population statistics.
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- "Centenarians abroad to get birthday bonus". Irish Times. 3 March 2006. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
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- Mecocci P, Polidori MC, Troiano L et al. (April 2000). "Plasma antioxidants and longevity: a study on healthy centenarians". Free Radic Biol Med. 28 (8): 1243–8. doi:10.1016/S0891-5849(00)00246-X. PMID 10889454. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
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- "Blood tests 'could be used to predict lifespan'". The Daily Telegraph. 25 June 2008. Retrieved 30 June 2008.
- "Living longer thanks to the 'longevity gene'". PhysOrg.com. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
- Adams ER, Nolan VG, Andersen SL, Perls TT, Terry DF (Nov 2008). "Centenarian offspring: start healthier and stay healthier". J Am Geriatr Soc 56 (11): 2089–92. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.01949.x. PMC 2892731. PMID 18811609.
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- In 2006, official data from the Okinawa Prefectural government were slightly inflated because of a methodological flaw. See Willcox, D. Craig; Willcox, Bradley J.; He Qimei; Wang Nien-chiang and Suzuki Makoto. "They Really Are That Old: A Validation Study of Centenarian Prevalence in Okinawa". (PDF) The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. Vol. 63. 2008. pp. 338–349.
- "Upside to castration? Eunuchs lived longer, study finds". Reuters via NBC. 24 September 2012. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
- Fackler, Martin (10 September 2010). "Japan's Elderly Count Was Off by 234,000". New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
- "More than 230,000 Japanese centenarians 'missing'". BBC. 10 September 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
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- "Tokyo's 'oldest man' dead for 30 years". The Daily Telegraph. 29 July 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
- "Nearly 200 of Japan's oldest citizens 'missing'". AFP. 11 August 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
- "Japanese man kept dead mother in backpack". The Daily Telegraph. 20 August 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
- Horvath S, Mah V, Lu AT, Woo JS, Choi OW, Jasinska AJ, Riancho JA, Tung S, Coles NS, Braun J, Vinters HV, Coles LS (2015). "The cerebellum ages slowly according to the epigenetic clock." (PDF). Age (Albany US) 7 (5). PMID 25968125.
- "105-Year-Old Texas Woman Reveals Bacon as her Secret behind Long Life". Retrieved September 8, 2013. Science World Report, May 8, 2013.
- "105-Year-Old Woman Says Bacon Keeps Her Alive". Time. 9 May 2013. Retrieved October 26, 2013. TIME.com, May 9, 2013, with news video.
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- "The secret to long life? Bacon, says 105-year-old". CBS News. Retrieved October 26, 2013. CBS News, May 9, 2013.
- "The secret to a long life? BACON, says feisty 105-year-old woman". Daily News (New York). Retrieved October 26, 2013. New York Daily News, May 8, 2013.
- Stuart, Hunter (7 May 2013). "Pearl Cantrell, 105-Year-Old Woman, Says Bacon Is Key To Longevity". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 26, 2013. Huffington Post, May 7, 2013
- "107-year-old Arkansas man dies in shootout with S.W.A.T.". Retrieved September 8, 2013. CBS affiliate KTVH 11, September 8, 2013. Includes photo of deceased.
- "107-year-old man killed in gun battle with SWAT team". Retrieved September 9, 2013. Christian Science Monitor, September 8, 2013. Video, photo of house.
- "SWAT team shoots and kills one of the oldest men in America". Daily Mail (London). 8 September 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013.Daily Mail Online, September 8, 2013. Photos of exterior crime scene.
- "Monroe Isadore, 107-year-old Arkansas man, killed during shootout with SWAT team". CBS News. Retrieved September 9, 2013. CBS News, September 9, 2013
- "City tells 103-year-old: We’re buying your parking lot, like it or not". Q13Fox News, October 23, 2013, with news video. "The city is forcing a 103-year-old Spokane woman to sell her parking lot in Seattle to make way for, well, a parking lot."
- "Seattle seizes elderly woman's parking lot to turn it into -- a parking lot". Fox News. 25 October 2013. Retrieved October 26, 2013. FOXNews.com, October 25, 2013. "The city of Seattle is using its power of eminent domain to force a 103-year-old woman to give up her private waterfront parking lot to make way for a city-owned parking lot."
- "Parking lot operator talks about 103-year-old's lot being taken by City of Seattle". Retrieved October 26, 2013.KIRO Radio, October 24, 2013, with 9:38 audio link.
- "102-year-old man sells rare coin collection for $23M at NYC auction". Retrieved November 19, 2013. CTV News, November 17, 2013
- Dominique Mosbergen (May 5, 2015). "101-Year-Old Man Rescued From Rubble With 'Minor Injuries' 1 Week After Nepal Earthquake". The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
- Koch, Tina; Kralik, Debbie; Power, Charmaine (2005). 100 Years Old: 24 Australian Centenarians Tell Their Stories. Camberwell, Vic: Viking. ISBN 0-670-02872-X.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Centenarians.|
- Okinawa Centenarian Study
- Mortality of Centenarians via Princeton University
- U.S. politicians who lived the longest via Political Graveyard
- Noted Nonagenarians and Centenarians via Genarians.com
- Centenarian research and celebration via AdlerCentenarians.org
- Living Beyond 100 via International Longevity Center UK
- Table of numbers of centenarians for select nations, 1960 and 1990 via Demogr.mpg.de
- Centenarians’ Road Project website
- Oldest People in Britain