The Reformation of Age and Ageing
Published online: 10 August 2017
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017
The 15th April 2017 saw the end of the final living link to the nineteenth century.
Emma Morano died at her home in northern Italy aged 117, one of the five longest
lived people in recorded history. Emma was born in November 1899 and is believed to
have been the last survivor from the nineteenth Century. She survived two world wars
and more than 90 Italian governments. Emma is succeeded by Violet Brown, a 117-
year-old Jamaican woman. None has yet to achieve the longest recorded life, which is
still held by Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 aged 122 years, 164 days -
the longest documented human lifespan.
In the eighteenth century, there were probably 10 centenarians in the whole of Europe,
now there are 14,500 just in the UK, and by the end of the century it is projected that there
will be close to 1.5 million. There are already over half a million over 90, and 850 people in
the UK over 105. Yet we are still achieving these very long lives without the radical
intervention that science can bring, and the recent discussion in Nature
has again highlighted
the view that there is currently no reason to suppose that there is a maximum life span.
In recognition of 500 years since Martin Luther asserted his reformations,
unleashing unforeseen change across Europe, I was invited to assert a reformation of
the reimagining of the concept of age, ageing and old age for the twenty-first century.
argued not only that our past and present conceptualisations of ageing and old age are at
odds with contemporary reality, but that our entire lives – particularly those in advanced
economies - are now being played out in a world which is in itself ageing. To grow old
in a society which is old is very different from growing old in a society which is young.
Population Ageing (2017) 10:201–205
Nature Volume 546 Number 7660 pp575–696: Brief Communications Arising Contesting the evidence for
limited human lifespan Nicholas J. L. Brown, Casper J. Albers & Stuart J. Ritchie. Many possible maximum
lifespan trajectories Bryan G. Hughes & Siegfried Hekimi. Is there evidence for a limit to human lifespan?
Maarten P. Rozing, Thomas B. L. Kirkwood & Rudi G. J. Westendorp. Questionable evidence for a limit to
human lifespan Adam Lenart & James W. Vaupel. Maximum human lifespan may increase to 125 years Joop
de Beer, Anastasios Bardoutsos & Fanny Janssen
Hay Festival May 2017: a Reformation of Ageing and Old Age
* Sarah Harper
Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK