Letter | Published:

Evidence for a limit to human lifespan

Nature volume 538, pages 257259 (13 October 2016) | Download Citation


Driven by technological progress, human life expectancy has increased greatly since the nineteenth century. Demographic evidence has revealed an ongoing reduction in old-age mortality and a rise of the maximum age at death, which may gradually extend human longevity1,2. Together with observations that lifespan in various animal species is flexible and can be increased by genetic or pharmaceutical intervention, these results have led to suggestions that longevity may not be subject to strict, species-specific genetic constraints. Here, by analysing global demographic data, we show that improvements in survival with age tend to decline after age 100, and that the age at death of the world’s oldest person has not increased since the 1990s. Our results strongly suggest that the maximum lifespan of humans is fixed and subject to natural constraints.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    & Demography. Broken limits to life expectancy. Science 296, 1029–1031 (2002)

  2. 2.

    Biodemography of human ageing. Nature 464, 536–542 (2010)

  3. 3.

    in Molecular and Cellular Biology of Aging (eds , & ) Ch. 2 (The Gerontological Society of America, 2015)

  4. 4.

    et al.. in Supercentenarians (eds et al.) (Springer, 2010)

  5. 5.

    The plasticity of aging: insights from long-lived mutants. Cell 120, 449–460 (2005)

  6. 6.

    , , & Increase of maximum life-span in Sweden, 1861–1999. Science 289, 2366–2368 (2000)

  7. 7.

    Why human lifespan is rapidly increasing: solving “longevity riddle” with “revealed-slow-aging” hypothesis. Aging 2, 177–182 (2010)

  8. 8.

    The Human Mortality Database (, 2016)

  9. 9.

    et al. Supercentenarians (Springer, 2010)

  10. 10.

    Aging, natural death, and the compression of morbidity. N. Engl. J. Med. 303, 130–135 (1980)

  11. 11.

    , & In search of Methuselah: estimating the upper limits to human longevity. Science 250, 634–640 (1990)

  12. 12.

    & The Essence of Aging. Gerontology 62, 381–385 (2016)

  13. 13.

    Longevity, Senescence, and the Genome (Univ. Chicago Press, 1990)

  14. 14.

    Aging of the Genome (Oxford, 2007)

  15. 15.

    et al. Interventions to slow aging in humans: are we ready? Aging Cell 14, 497–510 (2015)

  16. 16.

    & Puzzles, promises and a cure for ageing. Nature 454, 1065–1071 (2008)

Download references


We thank T. Wang for his suggestions on the statistical analysis. This study was supported by grants from the NIH to J.V. (AG017242 and AG047200), the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Institute for Aging Research/Nathan Shock Center, and the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Human Aging at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Author information

Author notes

    • Xiao Dong
    •  & Brandon Milholland

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Department of Genetics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA

    • Xiao Dong
    • , Brandon Milholland
    •  & Jan Vijg
  2. Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA

    • Jan Vijg


  1. Search for Xiao Dong in:

  2. Search for Brandon Milholland in:

  3. Search for Jan Vijg in:


X.D. and B.M. performed data analysis. X.D., B.M. and J.V. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jan Vijg.

Reviewer Information

Nature thanks J.-M. Robine and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data

About this article

Publication history






Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.