People’s Lifespans May Increase In the Future. Why Do They Desire Longer Lives?
“People are fascinated by the extremes of humanity, whether it’s going to the moon, how fast someone can run in the Olympics, or even how long someone can live,” says Michael Pearce from the University of Washington (UW) in the U.S., who recently led a study that estimates with almost a 100% probability that the present record for maximum reported age at death — 122 years, 164 days — will be broken by 2100.
And with a continuous expansion in the world population, the likelihood of breaking records is only rising, the researchers believe.
Published in Demographic Research, their study assessed the extremes of human life by studying longevity records of more than a thousand people from 13 countries across the world, as well as of almost 14,000 individuals, who died between the ages of 105 and 109. Using statistical modeling to analyze the data, the researchers found that “a lifespan of 125 years, or even 130 years, is possible” in his century.
Basically, the researchers based their findings on two factors: “how the risk of dying flattens after age 110, and growth in the number of people to reach age 110 this century,” according to an article in The Conversation by Pierce and his co-author on the study, Adrian Raftery, who is a professor of statistics at UW.
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On the one hand, life expectancy is on the rise globally due to advances in healthcare, and due to these same advancements, the researchers believe there is a flattening of the mortality rate after people reach a certain age — someone who hits 110 has the almost same probability of living another year as someone reaches the age of 114.
“This is a very select group of very robust people,” Raftery explained, adding that if “they’ve gotten past all the various things life throws at you, such as disease, [then] they die for reasons that are somewhat independent of what affects younger people.”
However, it may be pertinent to note, here, that the study is based on data gathered before the pandemic hit, and claimed more than 43 lakh lives globally. And, in any case, as the researchers clarified, “the maximum is not the average,” and just because we may break records by the end of the century, doesn’t mean everyone — or even most people — will live to be 110.
A study from June had found that while we may live longer now, we can’t really slow the process of aging in any manner. “Our findings support the theory that, rather than slowing down death, more people are living much longer due to a reduction in mortality at younger ages,” José Manuel Aburto, one of the study’s co-authors from the Oxford University, had told The Guardian.
Yet another study from May had found that even if a person manages to avoid dying of heart disease, cancer, or road accidents, the human body’s structural and metabolic systems do fail beyond a point that lies between 120 to 150 years; making 150 years the absolute longest a human being can live.
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But so many studies on the subject of human lifespans beg the question: what drives our desire to live longer especially at a juncture when climate change is expected to make life difficult in myriad ways?
Experts believe it could be because we don’t understand death. So the prospect of not living triggers a kind of FOMO. “The quest to live forever, or to live for great expanses of time, has always been part of the human spirit… The most difficult and inscrutable thing to us as mortal beings is our own death… We don’t understand it, we don’t get it, and as meaning-laden beings, we can’t fathom what it means to not exist,” Paul Root Wolpe, an American sociologist and bioethicist, told Time.
As for people like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin driving research in increasing longevity to the point of, perhaps, being immortal, ego may be an important factor. “Obviously they believe the world can’t possibly survive without their existence, and so they think their immortality is so critical to the survival of the world,” Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and bioethicist, said.
Wolpe, however, notes that younger people have a harder time [dealing with the idea of dying] compared to older people. “My youngest is upset that I do not want to be frozen and woken up in the future,” Suzanne Moore, a columnist for The Guardian wrote last year.
According to Wolpe, older people don’t care about living as long as younger people do because living longer doesn’t make aging slower — just as the study from June proved. “What you see when you actually look at people at the end of life, to a large degree, is a sense of a life well-lived and a time for that life to transition itself,” he notes.