While a person’s chances of living to 100 years are low, they are certainly higher than those of their parents and grandparents. One study in the United Kingdom calculated the chances for a newly born British baby living to 100 years to be one in four for baby boys and one in three for baby girls. Other studies have been more optimistic about the chances of becoming a centenarian, estimating that more half of the babies in advanced industrialized nations can expect to live a 100 years.
Centenarians represent a small fraction of the world’s current population of 7.3 billion, about 6 per 100,000 population or one centenarian out of every 16,000 people. Over the coming decades, however, this rate is expected to increase rapidly and by the close of century is projected to reach 236 per 100,000 or one centenarian out of every 425 people.
Today the countries with the largest numbers of centenarians are the United States (72 thousand), Japan (61 thousand), China (48 thousand), India (27 thousand) and Italy (25 thousand). Together those five countries account for about half of the world’s centenarians. By midcentury those countries will to continue to occupy the top five positions and with substantially greater numbers of centenarians: China (882 thousand), Japan (441 thousand), United States (378 thousand), Italy (216 thousand) and India (207 thousand).
In terms of the highest rate of centenarians per 100,000 population, the top five countries are Japan (48), Italy (41), Uruguay (34), Chile (31) and France (31). At around 22 centenarians per 100,000 population the United States is in 15th place behind many European countries, such as France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. By mid-century Japan and Italy are expected to continue to have the highest rates of centenarians at considerably higher levels, approximately 400 per 100,000 inhabitants or one centenarian out of every 250 people.
The high proportions of centenarians observed in some countries are largely the result of their lower mortality rates and older population age structures. Japan and Italy, for example, have the world’s longest life expectancies at birth (83 years), highest median ages (46 years) and largest proportions of the population aged 65 years or older (26 and 22 percent, respectively).
In terms of longevity women have a clear and decided advantage. In general, women tend to live longer than men, with the proportions in the oldest age groups being disproportionately women. Among the world’s centenarians the proportion women is 80 percent. And of the 46 people who are certified living supercentenarians, those age 110 or older, 96 percent are women.
However, the growing numbers and proportions of centenarians and other elderly persons are increasingly giving rise to critical policy questions and program issues, including retirement ages, medical care, pensions, financial investments, taxes, social services, health maintenance, rehabilitation, assisted living and care-giving.
Choosing to dismiss or delay addressing the profound consequences of population ageing and increased longevity is not only shortsighted, but also makes matters more difficult for individuals, families and communities as well as financially more costly for governments. Although political leaders may try to do otherwise, the demographic realities of population ageing and increased human longevity cannot be truthfully denied, politically finessed or legislated away.