Understanding Society

Tilburg University has been a reliable provider of high-quality education and research for more than eighty years. We specialize in the social sciences and humanities and we seek to make a structural contribution to society.

The oldest human does not get any older

PRESS RELEASE 31 August 2017 - On average, people live longer, but the very oldest among us have not gotten any older over the last thirty years. This is shown by forthcoming statistical research conducted by statisticians Jesson Einmahl MSc and Professor John Einmahl of Tilburg University, and Professor Emeritus Laurens de Haan of Erasmus University Rotterdam. They base their conclusion on precise ages at death of 75,000 Dutch people who died in the last 30 years at the age of at least 94.

With the help of so-called Extreme Value Theory, the statisticians discovered that a clear ceiling exists for the maximum age to which people could live. For women it is estimated at 115.7 years and for men at 114.1 years. This maximum age has not increased in the period under review, from 1986 until 2015, even though the number of people reaching the age of 95 almost trebled. The maximum ages mentioned above are estimates; the true values can deviate upwards to just above 120 years.

In 2016, an article written by American biologists appeared in the scientific journal Nature in which they argue that, although average life span has risen, the maximum life span has not increased, actually decreased, since 1995. However, according to many scientists, that research was based on flawed statistics. The present research has shown that there is a more or less constant ceiling to the maximum age in sight after all.

Extreme Value Theory is a branch of statistics that answers questions about extreme events (which, by definition, do not often occur) based on information about less extreme events. The theory is often applied in the world of finance and insurance, for example, to estimate extreme losses as a consequence of hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods.

Note to the editors

For more information about the study, please contact Professor John Einmahl of Tilburg University, tel. +31 13 466 8208 / e-mailĀ  j.h.j.einmahl@tilburguniversity.edu.