Is 72 the new 30?

Humans are living longer than ever before because of advancements in medicine and sanitation

It's not too late to hop back on that Harley...
(Image credit: ThinkStock/VStock)

"Despite what the fashion magazines tell you, 40 isn't the new 30," says Rachel Ehrenberg at Science News. "Seventy is." Thanks to advances in medicine, better sanitation, and other environmental changes, humans are living longer than ever before. In Japan, for example, a 72-year-old has the same likelihood of dying in one year as a 30-year-old hunter-gatherer did some 1.3 million years ago. Here, a concise guide to the new research backing these claims:

How was this study conducted?

A team of evolutionary anthropologists, led by Oskar Burger at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, pored over mortality data from Sweden, France, and Japan. They also looked at death rates of present-day hunter-gathers and from wild chimpanzees to approximate unavailable mortality data from millions of years ago.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

What did they find?

The probability of someone dying today at 72 is "similar to the death odds our ancestors likely faced at 30," says Ehrenberg. A 15-year-old hunter-gather, for example, had the same probability of dying within a year as a 69-year-old living in modern Sweden. (Unfortunately, data from the United States wasn't analyzed.)

Why are we living longer?

"Improvements in our living conditions through medicine, better sanitation, and clean drinking water (considered 'environmental' changes) accelerated life spans to modern levels in just 100 years," says Trevor Stokes at LiveScience. Researchers think that while genetics play a "small role" in shaping human mortality, the key driver when it comes to living longer is "the advent of medical technologies, improved nutrition, higher education, better housing," and the like. It's for these reasons that the mortality rate fallen so rapidly in the past four generations.

How much longer will we be living, then?

Mortality curves that show the probability of dying at a certain age are, right now, "at their lowest possible value," says Caleb Finch, a neurogerontology professor at the University of Southern California, who wasn't involved in the study. That means there's a "very strong prediction that life span cannot increase much more" than current rates.

Sources: LiveScience, Science News, WHPTV

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us