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The oldest human to ever live (one whose date of birth can be fully documented) was Jeanne Louise Calment from Arles, France. She died in 1997 at the age of 122 years 166 days. In many ways, she was a remarkable person. She is the only person to have ever been confirmed beyond a doubt to have reached the age of 120 years. Although she died several years ago in 1997, nobody else has managed to live that long.

An interesting side question is how Jeanne Louise Calment managed to achieve such an advanced age? She smoked until the age of 117 and reportedly ate a couple of pounds of chocolate a week. She also rode her bike until the age of 100 and lived on her own until 110. Go figure.

horse plowing field
It was rare for our ancestors to reach 100. A combination of hard life, irregular diet and poor medical care significantly shortened people's lifespan.

Other Interesting Facts on Aging from the 2010 Census:

• In 1999, the US Census Bureau published a report that determined “census counts prior to 1990 are marked by a large error for those aged 100 and older”. That was a polite way of saying people tend to overstate their age as they get older. One research paper even suggested that even as recently as 20 years ago, 1/3 of people claiming to be 100 had exaggerated their age. Thus, those who actually manage to live to 100 have always been rare.

• According to the US Census Bureau, about 80% of current centenarians are white, about 80% are female and about 80% were born in the United States. Thus, the largest group to live to 100 are native-born white females. Not surprisingly, most have been widowed for a number of years.

• About 10% of all centenarians live in California.The next most populous state for centenarians is New York, followed by Florida.

where centarians live
This map of the United States shows the population of centarians is concentrated in a few states. Source: Centarians 2010 Census Special Report US Census Bureau

• Internationally, the countries most likely to have a large proportion of centenarians are the United States, Canada, England, France, Japan and Sweden.

• The good news is that life expectancy is still increasing overall. For men, it has increased from 51.5 years for someone born in 1900 to 80.1 years for someone born in 2001.

Probability of Having a Centenarian in Your Family

According to a survey of 3,716 genealogists by the New England Historical Genealogical Society:

• There is an 89% probability that at least one of your ancestors lived into their 90s.

• There is a 38% probability that at least one of your ancestors was a centenarian.

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Further Reading

Long Life Runs in Families

Why Immigrants Change Their Name

Marriage and Age Differences

Are People with the Same Family Name Related?

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