A centenarian is a person who lives to or beyond the age of 100 years.
Because life expectancies worldwide are less than 100, the term is
invariably associated with extreme longevity. In 2012, the United
Nations estimated that there were 316,600 living centenarians
worldwide. As life expectancy is increasing across the world, and
the world population has also increased rapidly, the number of
centenarians is expected to increase quickly in the future.
According to the UK ONS, one-third of babies born in 2013 in the UK
are expected to live to 100.
John Gerrish of Saranac Lake, New York
2 Current incidences
Centenarian populations by country
4 Recognition worldwide
4.1 Britain and the Commonwealth
4.2 United States
5 Worldwide cultural traditions and rituals
6 Centenarians in ancient times
6.1 Ancient Greece
6.2 Historical Figures
7.1 Research in Italy
8 DNA repair
9 Japanese bio-study
Centenarian controversy in Japan
10 Epigenetic studies
11 Media references
12 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
A supercentenarian, sometime hyphenated as super-centenarian, is a
human (or individual species) or who has lived to the age of 110 or
more, something only achieved by about one in 1,000 centenarians.
Even rarer is a person who has lived to age 115 – there are only 45
people in recorded history who have indisputably reached this age, of
whom only Nabi Tajima, Chiyo Miyako, Giuseppina Projetto, Kane Tanaka,
and Maria Giuseppa Robucci are living as of 2018.
There has only been one known case of a person of 120 years of age or
older whose birth was independently verified by historical documents:
Jeanne Calment, who lived to the age of 122 years, 164 days.
Japan currently has the greatest number of known centenarians of any
nation with 67,824 according to their 2017 census, along with the
highest proportion of centenarians at 34.85 per 100,000 people. Japan
started recording its centenarians in 1963. The number of Japanese
centenarians in that year was 153, but surpassed the 10,000 mark in
1998; 20,000 in 2003; and 40,000 in 2009.
According to a 1998
United Nations demographic survey,
expected to have 272,000 centenarians by 2050; other sources
suggest that the number could be closer to 1 million. The incidence
of centenarians in
Japan was one per 3,522 people in 2008.
In Japan, the number of centenarians is highly skewed towards females.
Japan in fiscal year 2016 had 57,525 female centenarians, while males
were 8,167, a ratio of 7:1. The increase of centenarians was even more
skewed at 11.6:1.
Artist Mary Jane Alexander's portraits of centenarians at the
Oklamhoma Heritage Association
Centenarian populations by country
The total number of living centenarians in the world remains
uncertain. It was estimated by the Population Division of the United
Nations as 23,000 in 1950, 110,000 in 1990, 150,000 in 1995, 209,000
in 2000, 324,000 in 2005 and 455,000 in 2009. However, these
older estimates did not take into account the contemporary downward
adjustments of national estimates made by several countries such as
the United States; thus, in 2012, the UN estimated there to be only
316,600 centenarians worldwide. The following table gives estimated
centenarian populations by country, including both the latest and the
earliest known estimates, where available.
Latest estimate (year)
Earliest estimate (year)
1901 50 (1901)
232 (1990), 1960 25 (1960)
1950 23 (1950)
1990 4,469 (1990), 17,800 (2007)
2006 404 (2006)
1960 11 (1960)
1900 100 (1900)
1990227 (1990), 76 (1949)
1960 3 (1960)
19,095 (2015), 1872 99 (1872)
54,397 (2013) 1950 111 (1950), 155 (1960)
1990 2,403 (1990)
1830 18 (1830)
1960 18 (1960)
1951 44 (1951)
1970 500 (1970)
1990 41 (1990)
1953 2 (1953)
17,423 (2016) 
4,269 (2002) 
1950 46 (1950)
1860 7 (1860)
1911 107 (1911)
53,364 (2010), 1950 2,300 (1950)
316,600 (2012), 1950 23,000 (1950)
Greeting card from former U.S. President
Gerald Ford and First
Lady Betty Ford
In many countries, people receive a gift or congratulations from state
institutions on their 100th birthday.
Britain and the Commonwealth
United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms, the British
(and Commonwealth) monarch sends greetings (formerly as a telegram) on
the 100th birthday and on every birthday beginning with the 105th. The
tradition of Royal congratulations dates from 1908, when the Secretary
Edward VII sent a congratulatory letter to Reverend Thomas
Lord of Horncastle in a newspaper clipping, declaring, "I am commanded
by the King to congratulate you on the attainment of your hundredth
year, after a most useful life." The practice was formalised from
1917, under the reign of King George V, who also sent congratulations
on the attainment of a 60th Wedding anniversary.
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II sends a greeting card style with the notation: "I
am so pleased to know that you are celebrating your one-hundredth
birthday, I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on such a
special occasion", thereafter each few years the card is updated with
a current picture of the Queen to ensure people do not receive the
same card more than once. The Queen further sends her congratulations
on one's 105th birthday and every year thereafter as well as on
special wedding anniversaries; people must apply for greetings three
weeks before the event, on the official British Monarch's website.
In the United States, centenarians traditionally receive a letter from
the President, congratulating them for their longevity.
Centenarians born in
Ireland receive a €2,540 "Centenarians' Bounty"
and a letter from the President of Ireland, even if they are resident
Japanese centenarians receive a silver cup and a certificate from the
Prime Minister of
Japan upon the
Respect for the Aged Day following
their 100th birthday, honouring them for their longevity and
prosperity in their lives.
Swedish centenarians receive a telegram from the King and Queen of
Centenarians born in
Italy receive a letter from the President of
Worldwide cultural traditions and rituals
An aspect of blessing in many cultures is to offer a wish that the
recipient lives to 100 years old. Among Hindus, people who touch the
feet of elders are often blessed with "May you live a hundred years".
In Sweden, the traditional birthday song states, May he/she live for
one hundred years. In Judaism, the term May you live to be 120 years
old is a common blessing. In Poland, Sto lat, a wish to live a hundred
years, is a traditional form of praise and good wishes, and the song
"sto lat, sto lat" is sung on the occasion of the birthday
celebrations—arguably, it is the most popular song in
among Poles around the globe.
Chinese emperors were hailed to live ten thousand years, while
empresses were hailed to live a thousand years. In Italy, "A hundred
of these days!" (cento di questi giorni) is an augury for birthdays,
to live to celebrate 100 more birthdays. Some Italians say
"Cent'anni!", which means "a hundred years", in that they wish that
they could all live happily for a hundred years. In Greece, wishing
someone Happy Birthday ends with the expression να τα
εκατοστήσεις (na ta ekatostisis), which can be loosely
translated as "may you make it one hundred birthdays".
Centenarians in ancient times
While the number of centenarians per capita was much lower in ancient
times than today, the data suggest that they were not unheard of.
However, ancient demographics and chronicles are biased in favor of
wealthy or powerful individuals rather than the ordinary person. A
rare glimpse of an ordinary person is the legionary veteran Julius
Valens whose tombstone states he lived 100 years - "VIXIT ANNIS
C". Grmek and Gourevitch speculate that during the Classical Greek
period, anyone who lived past the age of five years – surviving all
the common childhood illnesses of that era – had a reasonable chance
of living to a relatively old age.
Life expectancy in 400 BC was
estimated to be around 30 years.[where?] One demographer of ancient
civilizations reported that Greek men lived to 45 years on average
(based on a sample size of 91), while women lived to 36.2 years (based
on a sample size of 55). Notably, the gender statistics are inverted
compared to today – childbirth at the time had a far higher
mortality rate than in modern times, skewing female statistics
downward. It was common for average citizens to take great care in
Mediterranean diet and exercise, although there was
much more male trauma per capita than today, due to military service
being virtually universal for citizens of Ancient Greece. This also
biased the statistics for men downward.
Diogenes Laertius (c. AD 250) gives one of the earliest references
regarding the plausible centenarian longevity given by a scientist,
Hipparchus of Nicea (c. 185 – c. 120 BC), who,
according to the doxographer, assured that the philosopher Democritus
of Abdera (c. 470/460 – c. 370/360 BC) lived 109 years. All other
ancient accounts of Democritus appear to agree that the philosopher
lived at least 90 years. However, such longevity would not be
dramatically out of line with that of other ancient Greek philosophers
thought to have lived beyond the age of 90 (e.g. Xenophanes of
Colophon, c. 570/565 – c. 475/470 BC;
Pyrrho of Ellis, c. 360 - c.
Eratosthenes of Cirene c. 285 – c. 190 BC). The case of
Democritus differs from those of, for example,
Epimenides of Crete
(7th and 6th centuries BC), who is said to have lived an implausible
154, 157 or 290 years, depending on the source.
Numerous other historical figures were reputed to have lived past 100.
The sixth dynasty Egyptian ruler
Pepi II is believed by some
Egyptologists to have lived to 100 or more (c. 2278 – c. 2184 BC),
as he is said to have reigned for 94 years. However this is
disputed: others say he only reigned 64 years. Hosius of Córdoba,
the man who convinced
Constantine the Great
Constantine the Great to call the First Council
of Nicaea, reportedly lived to age 102. The Chronicon of Bernold of
Constance records the death in 1097 of Azzo marchio de Longobardia,
pater Welfonis ducis de Baiowaria, commenting that he was iam maior
centenario. Ultimately, there is no reason to believe that
centenarians did not exist in antiquity, even if they were not
Main article: Research into centenarians
Research in Italy
Italy suggests that healthy centenarians have high levels
of both vitamin A and vitamin E and that this seems to be important in
causing their extreme longevity. Other research contradicts this,
however, and has found that this theory does not apply to centenarians
from Sardinia, for whom other factors probably play a more important
role. A preliminary study carried out in
Poland showed that, in
comparison with young healthy female adults, centenarians living in
Upper Silesia had significantly higher red blood cell glutathione
reductase and catalase activities, although serum levels of vitamin E
were not significantly higher. Researchers in
Denmark have also
found that centenarians exhibit a high activity of glutathione
reductase in red blood cells. In this study, the centenarians having
the best cognitive and physical functional capacity tended to have the
highest activity of this enzyme.
Other research has found that people whose parents became centenarians
have an increased number of naïve B cells. It is well known that the
children of parents who have a long life are also likely to reach a
healthy age, but it is not known why, although the inherited genes are
probably important. A variation in the gene FOXO3A is known to
have a positive effect on the life expectancy of humans, and is found
much more often in people living to 100 and beyond - moreover, this
appears to be true worldwide.
Men and women who are 100 or older tend to have extroverted
personalities, according to Thomas T. Perls, the director of the New
Centenarian Study at Boston University. Centenarians will
often have many friends, strong ties to relatives and high
self-esteem. In addition, some research suggests that the offspring of
centenarians are more likely to age in better cardiovascular health
than their peers.
Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who died in 2008 at age 102
Lymphoblastoid cell lines established from blood samples of
centenarians have significantly higher activity of the DNA repair
protein PARP (Poly ADP ribose polymerase) than cell lines from younger
(20 to 70 years old) individuals. The lymphocytic cells of
centenarians have characteristics typical of cells from young people,
both in their capability of priming the mechanism of repair after H2O2
sublethal oxidative DNA damage and in their PARP capacity. PARP
activity measured in the permeabilized mononuclear leukocyte blood
cells of thirteen mammalian species correlated with maximum lifespan
of the species. These findings suggest that PARP mediated DNA
repair activity contributes to the longevity of centenarians,
consistent with the DNA damage theory of aging.
Many experts attribute Japan's high life expectancy to the typical
Japanese diet, which is particularly low in refined simple
carbohydrates, and to hygienic practices. The number of centenarians
in relation to the total population was, in September 2010, 114%
Shimane Prefecture than the national average. This ratio was
also 92% higher in Okinawa Prefecture. In Okinawa, studies
have shown five factors that have contributed to the large number of
centenarians in that region:
A diet that is heavy on grains, fish, and vegetables and light on
meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Low-stress lifestyles, which are proven significantly less stressful
than that of the mainland inhabitants of Japan.
A caring community, where older adults are not isolated and are taken
better care of.
High levels of activity, where locals work until an older age than the
average age in other countries, and more emphasis on activities like
walking and gardening to keep active.
Spirituality, where a sense of purpose comes from involvement in
spiritual matters and prayer eases the mind of stress and
Although these factors vary from those mentioned in the previous
study, the culture of Okinawa has proven these factors to be important
in its large population of centenarians.
A historical study from Korea found that male eunuchs in the royal
court had a centenarian rate of over 3%, and that eunuchs lived on
average 14 to 19 years longer than uncastrated men.
Centenarian controversy in Japan
The number of Japanese centenarians was called into question in 2010,
following a series of reports showing that hundreds of thousands of
elderly people had gone "missing" in the country. The deaths of many
centenarians had not been reported, casting doubt on the country's
reputation for having a large population of
In July 2010, Sogen Kato, a centenarian listed as the oldest living
male in Tokyo, registered to be aged 111, was found to have died some
30 years before; his body was found mummified in his bed,
resulting in a police investigation into centenarians listed over the
age of 105. Soon after the discovery, the Japanese police found that
at least 200 other Japanese centenarians were "missing", and began a
nationwide search in early August 2010.
By measuring the biological age of various tissues from centenarians,
researchers may be able to identify tissues that are protected from
aging effects. According to a study of 30 different body parts from
centenarians and younger controls, the cerebellum is the youngest
brain region (and probably body part) in centenarians (about 15 years
younger than expected ) according to an epigenetic biomarker of
tissue age known as epigenetic clock.
These findings could explain why the cerebellum exhibits fewer
neuropathological hallmarks of age related dementias compared to other
brain regions. Further, the offspring of semi-supercentenarians
(subjects who reached an age of 105–109 years) have a lower
epigenetic age than age-matched controls (age difference=5.1 years in
peripheral blood mononuclear cells) and centenarians are younger (8.6
years) than expected based on their chronological age.
Centenarians are often the subject of news stories, which often focus
on the fact that they are over 100 years old. Along with the typical
birthday celebrations, these reports provide researchers and cultural
historians with evidence as to how the rest of society views this
elderly population. Some examples:
107-year-old Arkansas man Monroe Isadore dies in shootout with
101-year-old Japanese man Funchu Tamang rescued from the Nepal
earthquake in 2015
In 2015, Japanese man Hidekichi Miyazaki, a masters athlete, became
the world's oldest sprinter upon winning the 100m at the age of 105,
earning a place in the
Guinness World Record
Guinness World Record book. His record has
since been surpassed by American Donald Pellmann
William A."Bill" Del Monte, the last known survivor of the 1906 San
Francisco earthquake, passed at a retirement faculty in Marin County
in 2016 at the age of 109.
In 2015 Mieko Nagaoka, a 100-year-old Japanese woman, became the first
centenarian to complete a 1500m swim in a 25-meter pool; specifically,
she completed 30 laps of the pool in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 54 seconds,
in a masters event in Matsuyama, Japan.
In May 2015 Marjorie "Bo" Gilbert, from South Wales, became the first
centenarian to appear in the magazine Vogue, when she was featured as
part of an advertisement for the department store Harvey
On April 30, 2016,
Ida Keeling became the first woman in history to
complete a 100-meter run at the age of 100. Her time of 1:17.33 was
witnessed by a crowd of 44,469 at the 2016 Penn Relays. This
time was the best ever recorded in the 100-meter dash for any female
age 100 or older.
In 2017, Julia Hawkins (age 101) became the oldest woman ever in the
USA Track and Field Outdoors Masters Championships, and ran the 100
meters in 40.12 seconds. Previously that year she had run the 100
meters in 39.62 seconds. That is a new world record for women 100
Food preferences in older adults and seniors
Lists of centenarians
Queensland Community Care Network, which operates the
centenarians-only 100+ club
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Centenarians.
Mortality of Centenarians via Princeton University
U.S. politicians who lived the longest via Political Graveyard
Noted Nonagenarians and Centenarians via Genarians.com
Centenarian research and celebration via AdlerCentenarians.org
Living Beyond 100 via International
Longevity Center UK
Table of numbers of centenarians for select nations, 1960 and 1990 via
Centenarians’ Road Project website
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