Humans are living longer around the world. While there have been obvious ups and downs, life expectancy at birth overall has been steadily increasing for many years. It has more than doubled in the last two centuries.

This increase was previously driven by reductions in infant mortality. But since around the 1950s, the main driver has been reductions in mortality at older ages. In Sweden, for example, where national population data have been collected since the mid-16th century and are of a very high quality, the maximum lifespan has been increasing for almost 150 years. Increasing lifespans have been observed in many other countries, including in Western Europe, North America and Japan.

This has contributed to a rapid increase in the number of very old people – those living up to 100, 110 or even more. The first verified supercentenarian (aged 110 and above) was Geert Adrians-Boomgaard, who died in 1899 aged 110 years, four months. His record has been broken by others since. The first verified female supercentenarian, Margaret Ann Neve, died in 1903 aged 110 years, ten months and held the record for almost 23 years. Delina Filkins passed away in 1928 aged 113 years, seven months. She kept the record for just over 52 years.

The current record holder is the French woman Jeanne Calment, who died on August 4, 1997, aged 122 years, five months. Despite the near exponential increase in the number of supercentenarians since the early 1970s, her record holds firm – but she's unlikely to hold it for much longer.

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