Life expectancy has been increasing for 165 years
More than half of babies now born in the UK and other wealthy nations will live to 100 years, researchers say.
Data from more than 30 developed countries shows that since 1950 the probability of surviving past 80 years of age has doubled for both sexes. One expert said healthy behaviours for all ages was the key to enjoying living a long life.
Professor Kaare Christensen, who led the study, said life expectancy had been increasing since 1840 and there was no sign of this trend slowing down.
He said: ‘The linear increase in record life expectancy for more than 165 years does not suggest a looming limit to human lifespan. If life expectancy were approaching a limit, some deceleration of progress would probably occur.’
In 1950 the probability of surviving for between 80 and 90 years of age was, on average, 15 to 16% for women and 12% for men. In 2002, these figures had risen to 37% for women and 25% for men.
The researchers said that man could now be regarded as having four stages of life – child, adult, young old age and old old age. They said there was no evidence that the old old age group were unhealthier than their younger counterparts, partly because the frailest people died first, leaving the most robust to survive past 85.
Professor Christensen said that in the UK and other countries there was evidence of a postponement in the limitations and disabilities caused by ill-health, despite an increase in chronic diseases. This was because of improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
The Department of Health said rising life expectancy would have an impact on the future funding of care services in England.
‘We know that the shape of our society is changing… We want to make sure that people who are living longer continue to enjoy a good quality of life. By 2040 we expect 1.7m more adults will have a care need.’
Plans for a National Care Service to provide free at-home support for elderly people in the greatest need were announced by the prime minister at the Labour Party conference.