There was a general belief that while death rates for children and young adults would fall as we learnt to conquer infectious diseases, death rates for the over 65s would never slow. Yet by the end of the 20th Century, the decline in human mortality rates was fastest for those in old age. It was argued that life expectancy would never reach beyond 90 years. Latest figures suggest that this will be breached with 20 years, and that half of those born today in Europe will reach over 100. At what year will a human live longer than Jeanne Louise Calment – who died at 122 years old in 1997? Or will this be the maximum life span of any human being? With life expectancy gains reaching over 2 years with every decade this lecture will focus on how long human can expect to survive, and ask the question why is there a search for extreme longevity and what will be the societal consequences?
Sarah Harper is Professor of Gerontology at the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing which she founded in 1997 with funding from the NIA . Sarah currently serves on the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, which advises the Prime Minister on the scientific evidence for strategic policies and frameworks. She chairs the UK government Foresight Review on Ageing Societies, and the European Ageing Index Panel for the UNECE Population Unit. She is a Governor of the Pensions Policy Institute. Sarah was the first holder of the International Chair in Old Age Financial Security, at the University of Malaya (2009/10) and her research was recognized by the 2011 Royal Society for Public Health: Arts and Health Research Award. Sarah has a background in anthropology and population studies and her early research focused on migration and the social implications of demographic change. Her current research on demographic change addresses the global and regional impact of falling fertility and increasing longevity, with a particular interest in Asia and Africa. Sarah has just completed a monograph on Population Challenges for Oxford University Press (2015), and is working her next book for Cambridge University Press Population and Environmental Change. Throughout her academic career, Sarah has combined academic research with external professional commitments. Internationally, Sarah represents the UK on the European Science Academies’ Demographic Change in Europe Panel, serves on the Council of Advisors of Population Europe and on the Advisory Board of the World Demographic Association. She serves on the Advisory Board, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Sarah served as Advisor to the Malaysian Government, Advisor to the Singapore Government’s Third Age Council and as a Specialist Advisor for the European Commission Demographic Change Programme.