Human longevity has improved so rapidly over the past century that 72 is the new 30, scientists say.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, said progress in lowering the risk of death at all ages has been so rapid since 1900 that life expectancy has risen faster than it did in the previous 200 millennia since modern man began to evolve from hominid species.
The pace of increase in life expectancy has left industrialised economies unprepared for the cost of providing retirement income to so many for so long.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, looked at Swedish and Japanese men – two countries with the longest life expectancies today. It concluded that their counterparts in 1800 would have had lifespans that were closer to those of the earliest hunter-gatherer humans than they would to adult men in both countries today.
Those primitive hunter gatherers, at age 30, had the same odds of dying as a modern Swedish or Japanese man would face at 72.
Scientists who worked on the study said it was unclear what the possible upper limit for life expectancy would be. “How much longer can we extend life?” said Oskar Burger, lead researcher on the study. “We just don’t know.”
The study did not try to draw conclusions about whether the extension of human life was moral or desirable, or whether it could occur without depleting the faculties needed to enjoy the extra years.
Instead, it tried to look at how the odds of dying at specific ages had changed over time. The researchers used longevity data from chimpanzees in captivity to estimate lifespans for pre-humans and data from modern day hunter-gatherer tribes as a benchmark for early human lifespans.