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How Many People Live to 100?


A centenarian is someone who lives to 100. Have you ever wondered how common it is to have a centenarian in your family?

For the last several years, various reports have suggested that people are living longer and healthier lives. Better diets and improved medical care have been at the forefront of this trend. If more people are living longer, does this mean more people are reaching the century mark?

In 2005, the US Census Bureau estimated the country would have 114,000 centenarians by the year 2010. The actual number reported in the 2010 census was less than half that amount at exactly 53,364 people. What happened to all the centenarians?

centarians
This projection from the US census bureau in 1999 shows the expected number of centarians in the country. Many experts now think these projections are too optimistic. Source: Centarians in the United States July 1999 special report US Census Bureau

The population of the United States in 2010 was approximately 309 million. Thus, today only 0.0173% of Americans live to 100. As reported in the article Long Life Runs in Families, some families have a disproportionate number of people who live to 100. However, in the general population, living to 100 continues to remain an unusual event. The table below shows the proportion of US centenarians over time. It is useful to keep this table in mind when looking at your own family tree.

Population of US Centenarians Over Time

Year
Number of Centenarians
Percentage of Population
     
<1940
rare
n/a
1950
2,300
0.0015%
1990
37,306
0.0150%
2010
53,364
0.0173%

 

It can be seen that the proportion of people reaching 100 is slowly increasing over time. It is, however, increasing much slower than statisticians and health-care professionals expected. Roughly 1 person in every 6,000 reach their 100th birthday today. Fifty years ago, only 1 person in every 67,000 reached the century mark.

Fortunately, people are living longer. For example, the 2010 census showed a strong increase in the number of people aged 90 to 94 (up 30.2%) and those aged 95 to 99 (up 29.5%). It is just that people are not living beyond 100. Reaching the century mark is tougher than previously thought.

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