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Jeanne Louise Calment spent all of her incredibly long life in Arles, France. She was born there in February 1875 and died there in August 1997. At the time of her death, she was the oldest person ever recorded—and she still is.

 

Perhaps she always will be.

 

For years, people have been saying that the first human who will live to 150 has already been born. That’s unlikely, say Jan Vijg, Xiao Dong, and Brandon Milholland, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After looking at demographic data from the last century, they think that human lifespan has a hard ceiling at around 115 years. A few rare individuals like Calment may surpass that limit, if only slightly, but on average, our species will not.

 

That seems counter-intuitive. For centuries, our average life expectancy has been going up and up. Our maximum lifespan has too: Although claims of extreme age can be hard to verify, one reliable set of figures from Sweden showed that the very oldest people reached just 101 years in the 1860s but 108 years in the 1990s. “Demographers said that if there’s an end in sight, they couldn’t see it,” says Vijg, who led the new study. “When Calment died at 122, everyone said it’ll only be a matter of time before we have someone who’s 125 or 130. But after Calment, there was no one else. It was 115 … 115 … 115.”

To see if that perceived plateau was real, Dong, Milholland, and Vijg turned totwo international databases on longevity and worked out the oldest individuals who died in any given year. They specifically looked at France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.—the four countries with the most supercentenarians, people who live to 110 years or more.

 

The data were clear. Between the 1970s and early 1990s, our maximum age rose from around 110 to 115—and then stopped after 1995, shortly before Jeanne Calment died.  In fact, Vijg’s team calculated that in any given year, the odds that at least one person in the world will live past their 125th birthday are less than 1 in 10,000.

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The Atlantic

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