The Age Illusion: Examining Supercentenarian Secrets

New research suggests that clerical errors, pension fraud, and socioeconomic factors may hugely influence the recorded ages of supercentenarians.

A recent study suggests that the recorded ages of supercentenarians may be significantly influenced by clerical errors, pension fraud, and socioeconomic factors, challenging traditional beliefs about extreme human longevity.

In a study called “Supercentenarian and remarkable age records exhibit patterns indicative of clerical errors and pension fraud,” Saul Justin Newman of the Australian National University takes a critical look at the veracity of age records of supercentenarians: people aged 110 and above.

Published to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s bioRxiv preprint server on May 3, 2020, this research goes beyond traditional views of longevity to explore the potential influence of socioeconomic factors and data inaccuracies on these extraordinary age claims.

The Enigma of Supercentenarians

Supercentenarians have long been a subject of scientific and public fascination, with their longevity often attributed to genetic factors, healthy lifestyles, and strong social networks.

Newman’s study, however, casts doubt on these assumptions by suggesting that errors and fraud might play significant roles in these age records.

In a detailed analysis, Newman examines data from the United States, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

The study includes every known individual over age 100 (centenarians) in Japan and Italy, all known semi-supercentenarians (aged 105 or over) and supercentenarians in the UK, and 99.4% of known supercentenarians in the USA with documented birth locations.

This comprehensive dataset covered over 81% of the total global supercentenarian population, providing a robust basis for the study’s conclusions.

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The Impact of Errors and Socioeconomic Factors

In the United States, for example, the study highlighted a significant decrease in the number of supercentenarian records following the introduction of state-wide birth certification.

This coincided with a rapid increase in life expectancy and population size between the 1880 and 1900 census periods, suggesting that the presence of vital registration systems might reduce the likelihood of erroneous age claims.

The main improvement in the United States that led to better record-keeping was the introduction of state-wide birth certification.

The research found, for example, that a substantial portion (82%) of the supercentenarian records from the US predated the implementation of state-wide birth certification.

When 42 states achieved complete birth certificate coverage, there was a notable decrease in the number of supercentenarians: the number fell by 80% per year overall and 69% per capita when adjusted relative to circa 1900 state population sizes.

This decline in supercentenarian numbers after the implementation of state-wide birth registration suggests that improved record-keeping, specifically the standardization and widespread adoption of birth certificates, played a crucial role in reducing age inaccuracies

Newman’s investigation also uncovered instances of data discrepancies and potential fraud in several countries.

For instance, a 2010 inquiry into Japanese records discovered that numerous centenarians were actually missing or deceased, leading to a substantial downward revision of centenarian numbers.

Similar issues were observed in Italy and the USA, where pension frauds involving payments to deceased individuals were uncovered.

The case of Okinawa, Japan, famous for its high number of centenarians, was particularly striking.

Despite its reputation for longevity, Okinawa ranks low in several socioeconomic indicators like senior citizen ratio, median income, and unemployment rate.

The high number of centenarians in Okinawa may be partly attributed to the loss of birth and death records during World War II, leading to errors in age reporting.

Eyebrow-raising Correlations

The role of benefits fraud in inflating the records of supercentenarian longevity is a critical aspect of the study.

This type of fraud involves the manipulation or concealment of information to illicitly receive financial benefits, often from pension or social security systems.

Newman’s research sheds light on several instances where pension fraud directly influenced longevity records.

This kind of fraud inflates longevity statistics, as it creates the illusion of a higher number of extremely old individuals than actually exist.

In the United States, for example, a cross-checking of census and death records uncovered significant errors.

The analysis found that a substantial percentage of people listed as centenarians and even older were, in fact, errors.

This revelation points to a systemic issue in record-keeping and validation, where deceased people continue to be listed as alive, potentially due to fraudulent claims for continuing pension benefits.

Similar examples were found in Italy and Japan.

These instances across different countries highlight a concerning trend: benefits fraud and poor record-keeping are not just minor anomalies but could be key factors distorting our understanding of human longevity.

By artificially inflating age records, these practices undermine the accuracy of demographic studies and gerontological research, leading to misconceptions about the real limits of human lifespan and the factors contributing to extreme aging.

Rethinking Birth Records

In conclusion, Newman’s research compels us to reconsider the commonly held beliefs about the reasons behind extreme longevity in supercentenarians.

While past studies have often attributed this extraordinary lifespan to factors like diet and lifestyle, Newman’s findings urge a deeper examination of the validity of age records and the potential influence of socioeconomic and error-related factors.

The reality of supercentenarian longevity may be rooted in more complex and varied factors than previously thought​​.