From the archives: Is there a limit to human life?

People have always been fascinated with the question of human longevity. In this 1954 piece for Technology MagazineJames A. Tobey, author of more than a dozen books on public health, including Your diet for a longer life (1948), notes that although there are some frauds claiming to be over 150 years old, “the unanimous scientific opinion is that there is a definite limit to human lifespan, a limit now and perhaps forever is about 100 years”.

In 1954, the average American life expectancy at birth rose to 68 years from 47 in 1900. But most of the progress has come not from older people living longer, but from babies avoiding die before their first birthday. Tobey commented that the average person’s chance of living to 100 in the mid-20th century America was “no better than it was during the Roman Empire”.

Since then, we’ve done better: the average life expectancy in the United States reached nearly 79 years before dropping in recent years, largely due to the covid-19 pandemic. But as this TR number reveals, our quest to further extend the upper limit over the years continues.

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