Record Measures of Longevity

Vladimir Canudas-Romo, University of California, Berkeley
John R. Wilmoth, United Nations

This study reviews the trend over time in three measures of "typical" longevity: life expectancy at birth, and median and modal ages at death. It also examines trends in record values observed for all three measures. Record life expectancy at birth increased steadily from a level of 44 years in 1840 to 82 years in 2004, and record median age at death showed a similar increasing pattern. However, record modal age at (adult) death remained at a plateau around age 80 until the 1940s. In more recent years, the mode has shown the same pace of increase observed for the other record measures. This trend in the modal age at death reflects a fundamental change over time from a dominance of child mortality reductions to a dominance of adult mortality reductions. It is argued that mortality forecasts based on shifting ages at death must take this change into account.

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Presented in Session 52: Issues in the Measurement of Mortality