Biodemographic Trajectories of Longevity

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Science  08 May 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5365, pp. 855-860
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5365.855

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Old-age survival has increased substantially since 1950. Death rates decelerate with age for insects, worms, and yeast, as well as humans. This evidence of extended postreproductive survival is puzzling. Three biodemographic insights—concerning the correlation of death rates across age, individual differences in survival chances, and induced alterations in age patterns of fertility and mortality—offer clues and suggest research on the failure of complicated systems, on new demographic equations for evolutionary theory, and on fertility-longevity interactions. Nongenetic changes account for increases in human life-spans to date. Explication of these causes and the genetic license for extended survival, as well as discovery of genes and other survival attributes affecting longevity, will lead to even longer lives.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Doberaner Strasse 114, D-18057 Rostock, Germany. E-mail: jwv{at}

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