Extreme longevity tracking

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Extreme longevity tracking is the tracing and recording of claims of exceptionally long human lives (longevity), as a branch of demography. Persons have been noted for tracking 'supercentenarians' (those aged 110+) for hundreds of years; some included quite famous persons noted in other fields. What was once a hobby in the Middle Ages became a more scientific endeavor in the 1870s with William Thoms. Alexander Graham Bell dabbled in the field, among his many other pursuits. While long a back-burner field, noted names such as "Young and Bowerman" in the 1930s continued. The advent of the Guinness World Records brought the tradition worldwide recognition. By the 1960s, some governments began tracking 'centenarians' as well as the 'oldest person' in the country (for example, Japan started in 1963; the UK in 1966). Today, many European nations, from Germany to the Netherlands, track 'supercentenarians'. However, even some Western nations have lagged: major efforts in the USA only started in the last decade, and other states such as France have not yet instituted such recordkeeping. Due to this, there remains room for 'unofficial' experts.

While supercentenarian tracking may seem esoteric to some people[who?], recently society has recognized its use,[dubious ] in particular since the advent of pension payments (beginning in Germany around 1870). Early trackers, however, focused either on myth-making or myth-busting; the goal was often to find out why some people lived so long and find the 'secret to long life.' Later, scientific inquiry found that in most cases, extreme ages, especially 115+, were all false. Only in recent decades has a population of persons 110+ emerged as a consistent reality (the first validated 110-year-old was in 1898, Geert Adriaans Boomgaard of the Netherlands, but as recently as the 1970s the person recognized as the "world's oldest person" was as young as 109).


Currently, there is no scientific way to determine the chronological age of a human individual through scientific testing. Therefore, a system of documented recordkeeping is needed so that the ages of test subjects recruited for scientific studies can be considered accurate. When dealing with the extremes of data, often age misreporting can be the first and foremost issue. For example, the 2000 U.S. Census was considered generally reliable for younger ages, but by age 110, 90% of the cases or more were believed to be false (1,388 supercentenarians were reported, while Social Security reported only 139 persons aged 110 or older on their pension rolls at the time; and, note, the Gerontology Research Group has never yet accepted as verified even 100 living supercentenarians at any time, worldwide).[citation needed]

Demographers, therefore, have recognized that data of the extremes can only be considered accurate when systems of recordkeeping are compulsory (including 100% of the population) for at least 100 consecutive years. For example, Sweden began compulsory recordkeeping in 1749; the data is considered accurate since 1860 (Wilmoth, 1999). Prior to 1860, age claims in Sweden went as high as 147.[citation needed]

Whole-population data can therefore be divided into three periods: preliterate, transitional, and modern. In the preliterate period, records were kept only for the monarch and nobles, and the general populace was uneducated and undocumented. Gradually, as the expansion of tax rolls made the census a necessity (the Domesday of England, for example), governments saw the need to keep records for next the Middle Class and ultimately everyone. This period is called "transitional" because a significant percentage of the population had records of birth, marriage, baptism, etc. but a substantial proportion did not.[citation needed]

When a record system reaches near 100% coverage, that system is said to be "modern." Currently, modern systems include those of nations such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Japan. Surprisingly, the USA is still in the transitional period: Universal birth registration was not compulsory until 1933, so the US will be in the transitional period until around 2050, by which time the data will become reliable even without age validation. Until that time, the age claim of the oldest person in the U.S. cannot be assumed to be valid without proof. In 2008, the oldest American claimant was Pearl Gartrell, who claimed birth April 1, 1888 and died November 23, 2008 (and would therefore be 120 years old, if accurate) while the oldest verified living American was Edna Parker, born April 20, 1893, aged 115 years old, when deceased November 26, 2008. Since their deaths, the oldest claimant may be Andrew Hatch (born October 7, 1898) of Oakland, California; while the official oldest living American is now Jeralean Talley (born May 23, 1899) a gap of approximately seven and a half months.[citation needed]

Comparatively, in the United Kingdom in 2009 the oldest person was Eunice Bowman (born August 23, 1898) while the oldest claimant was immigrant Montazi Hussain (born July 1895). Although some nations are considered to have "modern" systems or recordkeeping, due to immigration from other nations, there is still a need for age validation.[citation needed]

Timeline of age validation[edit]

  • Prehistory and the age of myths
  • Development of systems of recordkeeping
  • 1846—Quetelet begins using a validation process for the ages of centenarians
  • 1870s—William Thoms and a new skepticism
  • 1890s—Thomas Emley Young and actuarial science
    • Thomas Emley Young was the president of the Society of Actuaries, London, and the foremost supercentenarian researcher in his day. He continued the work of William Thoms and introduced the method of counting "years and days" for living centenarians and supercentenarians
  • 1918—Alexander Graham Bell
  • 1939—Walter Bowerman
  • 1951—Paul Vincent and the method of extreme generations
  • 1966—Roger Thatcher and Väinö Kannisto develop the K-T Database
  • 1994—Bernard Jeune and the mortality trajectory hypothesis[citation needed]


Researchers and groups in the field include the Gerontology Research Group (founded by L. Stephen Coles in 1990), the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (founded by James Vaupel in 1996), the Supercentenarian Research Foundation (founded by Stan Primmer in 2004), Louis Epstein, Robert Douglas Young and Filipe Prista Lucas. Resources include the International Database on Longevity (founded by Jean-Marie Robine in 2005).

Other trackers[edit]

See also[edit]


  • William Thoms (1879). The Longevity of Man. Its Facts and Its Fictions. With a prefatory letter to Prof. Owen, C.B., F.R.S. on the limits and frequency of exceptional cases. London: F. Norgate. OCLC 4854500. 
  • Langdon Kain (April 1898), "Man's Span of Life", The North American Review 166 (497), archived from the original on 2007-12-09 
  • Young, Thomas Emley (1899). On Centenarians; and the Duration of the Human Race: A Fresh and Authentic Enquiry; with Historical Notes, Criticisms, and Speculations. London: Charles and Edwin Layton. OCLC 4874653. 
  • Allan L. Benson (May 16, 1909). "Learning the length of life" (PDF). New York Times. 
  • Bernard Jeune, James W Vaupel (1995). Exceptional Longevity: From Prehistory to the Present. Odense: Odense University Press. OCLC 300750028. 
  • Michel Allard, Jaques Vallin, Jean-Michel Andrieux, Jean-Marie Robine (1996). "In search of the secret of centenarians". In Graziella Caselli, Alan D. López. Health and mortality among elderly populations. International studies in demography. Oxford University Press. pp. 75, 76, 85. ISBN 978-0-19-823337-4. OCLC 246972107. 
  • Bernard Jeune; James W Vaupel (1999). Validation of Exceptional Longevity. ISBN 978-87-7838-466-9. 

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