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A Realist View of Aging, Mortality, and Future Longevity


  • Bruce A. Carnes
  • S. Jay Olshansky


Differences in methodology and philosophy have led scientists analyzing the same mortality data to arrive at very different conclusions about the behavior of mortality trajectories, the nature of aging, and the future of human longevity. This note describes the authors'views on these issues, which taken together can be termed a "realist" position. In this view, life expectancy is unlikely to exceed an average of 85 years absent significant advances in the control of aging. We identify a number of myths that have been attached to our work: 1) Reaching an average life expectancy of 85 years is a pessimistic outlook for human longevity, 2) Species possess an intrinsic mortality schedule that cannot be modified by human intervention, 3) Realist scenarios of the future course of human longevity are based on notions of biological determinism, 4) Realists assert that there is an age beyond which there can be no survivors, 5) Hypothesized biological barriers to longer life spans have been scientifically studied and refuted, and 6) Realists claim that life expectancy at birth cannot exceed 85 years. In dispelling these myths, we hope to provide a more accurate representation of our school of biodemographic thought. Copyright 2007 The Population Council, Inc..

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  • Bruce A. Carnes & S. Jay Olshansky, 2007. "A Realist View of Aging, Mortality, and Future Longevity," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 33(2), pages 367-381.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:popdev:v:33:y:2007:i:2:p:367-381

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    Cited by:

    1. Roland Rau & Eugeny Soroko & Domantas Jasilionis & James W. Vaupel, 2008. "Continued Reductions in Mortality at Advanced Ages," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 34(4), pages 747-768.
    2. Platanakis, Emmanouil & Sutcliffe, Charles, 2016. "Pension scheme redesign and wealth redistribution between the members and sponsor: The USS rule change in October 2011," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 14-28.
    3. Holger Strulik & Sebastian Vollmer, 2013. "Long-run trends of human aging and longevity," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(4), pages 1303-1323, October.
    4. repec:eee:hapoch:v1_3 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Schnittker, Jason & Karandinos, George, 2010. "Methuselah's medicine: Pharmaceutical innovation and mortality in the United States, 1960-2000," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(7), pages 961-968, April.
    6. Abeliansky, Ana Lucia & Strulik, Holger, 2017. "How we fall apart: Similarities of human aging in 10 European countries," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 301, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    7. Katharina Herlofson & Gunhild Hagestad, 2011. "Challenges in moving from macro to micro: Population and family structures in ageing societies," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 25(10), pages 337-370, August.
    8. Casper Worm Hansen & Holger Strulik, 2017. "Life expectancy and education: evidence from the cardiovascular revolution," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 22(4), pages 421-450, December.
    9. Michal Engelman & Vladimir Canudas-Romo & Emily M. Agree, 2010. "The Implications of Increased Survivorship for Mortality Variation in Aging Populations," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 36(3), pages 511-539.

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