The prospect of the century

Monday 5 August 2013

Associate Professor Heather Booth looks at Australians’ chances of living to 100, and beyond. 

According to survey research, most of us do not want to live to 100.

We tend to think of ill-health and disability rather than the excitement of achieving more in our lifetime and witnessing the amazing new developments that the future has in store.

When asked how long they think they will live, half of 50–89–year–old respondents gave an age between 80 and 90 years, with an average of 85 years.

After taking current age into account, respondents with greater life expectations tended to enjoy better self-rated health and mental health and tended to have more parents alive. They were also less likely to lack companionship and more likely to go to social activities.

Those with lower life expectations tended to strongly agree that they have all the friends they want or need, or that people don’t seem to like them very much.

The results showed that social networks’ play a significant role in living a longer life, underlining the importance of developing and maintaining social networks.

So, what are our chances of living to 100?

At birth, a baby boomer boy born in 1950 had a 3 in 100 chance of celebrating his 100th birthday. This probability has increased only marginally to date, and by the time he is 80 (in 2030) it will reach four in 100.

Only when he is 95 will his chances exceed 20 in 100; and at 99 he still has only 2:1 odds of reaching his century. A rather rare event, and even rarer for those who are centenarians today.

At least 25 Australians have lived to 110 or older – the first to reach 110 was in 1971, and numbers have increased since then.

The oldest-ever Australian, Christina Cock, lived to 114 years.

In 2009, Australia boasted some 2,700 centenarians. This number will reach 18,300 in 2029 and about 60,000 in 2050.

Proportionally, centenarians will increase from about 120 per million today to 1,500 per million in 2050. Still a rare event.

We will probably still be celebrating centenarianship at the end of this century.

Heather Booth is Associate Professor of demography at the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute in the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.

Associate Professor Booth delivered her findings on the prospect of the century at the Canberra Centenarians: Statistics, Science and Stories of Living to 100 forum held at ANU on August 2.



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