Limits to human life span through extreme value theory

Jesson Einmahl, John Einmahl, L.F.M. de Haan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


There is no scientific consensus on the fundamental question whether the probability distribution of the human life span has a finite endpoint or not and, if so, whether this upper limit changes over time. Our study uses a unique dataset of the ages at death - in days - of all (about 285,000) Dutch residents, born in the Netherlands, who died in the years 1986-2015 at a minimum age of 92 years and is based on extreme value theory, the coherent approach to research problems of this type. Unlike some other studies we base our analysis on the configuration of thousands of mortality data of old people, not just the few oldest old. We find compelling statistical evidence that there is indeed an upper limit to the life span of men and to that of women for all the 30 years we consider and, moreover, that there are no indications of trends in these upper limits over the last 30 years, despite the fact that the number of people reaching high age (say 95 years) was almost tripling. We also present estimates for the endpoints, for the force of mortality at very high age, and for the so-called perseverance parameter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1075-1080
JournalJournal of the American Statistical Association
Issue number527
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • aging
  • endpoint
  • extreme value index
  • oldest
  • statistics of extremes


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