No limits to life expectancy?

If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at this amazing graph illustrating the steady 3 months per year increase in life expectancy (and the errors of experts who thought that life expectancy was hitting a ceiling).

Fig. 1. Record female life expectancy from 1840 to the present [suppl. table 2 (1)]. The linear-regression trend is depicted by a bold black line (slope = 0.243) and the extrapolated trend by a dashed gray line. The horizontal black lines show asserted ceilings on life expectancy, with a short vertical line indicating the year of publication (suppl. table 1). The dashed red lines denote projections of female life expectancy in Japan published by the United Nations in 1986, 1999, and 2001 (1): It is encouraging that the U.N. altered its projection so radically between 1999 and 2001.

Source: Oeppen, J. and J. W. Vaupel: Broken limits to life expectancy. Science 296, 1029-1031 (2002). They conclude,

Three Findings
This mortality research has exposed the empirical misconceptions and specious theories that underlie the pernicious belief that the expectation of life cannot rise much further. Nonetheless, faith in proximate longevity limits endures, sustained by ex cathedra pronouncement and mutual citation (1, 8, 9). In this article we add three further lines of cogent evidence. First, experts have repeatedly asserted that life expectancy is approaching a ceiling: these experts have repeatedly been proven wrong. Second, the apparent leveling off of life expectancy in various countries is an artifact of laggards catching up and leaders falling behind. Third, if life expectancy were close to a maximum, then the increase in the record expectation of life should be slowing. It is not. For 160 years, best-performance life expectancy has steadily increased by a quarter of a year per year, an extraordinary constancy of human achievement.


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