Supercentarians & fraud

A lot of people, when planning for retirement, are (understandably) concerned about extreme longevity. We’ve seen news stories about someone turning 110 or even 120 years old. A new pre-print in bioRxiv makes the argument that many of these cases are likely due to simple pension fraud and the actual incidence of supercentarians is much, much lower.

The article makes one simple claim: supercentarians seem to predominantly come from places with poor record-keeping.

Italians over the age of 100 are concentrated into the poorest, most remote and shortest-lived provinces, while US supercentenarians are concentrated into populations with incomplete vital registries. Both patterns are difficult to explain through biology, but are readily explained as economic drivers of pension fraud and reporting error.

Places with good record-keeping don’t seem to have many supercentarians.

The state-specific introduction of birth certificates is associated with a 69–82% fall in the number of supercentenarian records

The author argues that simply looking at the attributes of supercentarians should make one suspicious, since it doesn’t align with any intuitive beliefs about health & long life.

[…] a below-median wage in over 95–98% of cases, moderate to high alcohol consumption (5.1–8.0 L/ year), a 10% illiteracy rate, an average 7.4 years of education, and a 99% rate of smoking in men.

Instead of prompting skepticism, under the relatively safe assumption that smoking, drinking, poverty, and illiteracy should not enrich for remarkable longevity records, these contra-indications of survival are routinely ignored.

While this is bad news for people hoping to personally see the 22nd century, this suggests that our fears about ultra-longevity when planning retirement should be tempered a bit.

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