The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A centenarian is a person who has attained the age of 100 years or more. The term is associated with longevity due to the fact that average life expectancies across the world are far from 100. Much rarer, a supercentenarian is a person who has lived to the age of 110 or more.

Reaching an old age has fascinated people for ages. According to the Bible, Methuselah lived to be 969 years old (Genesis 5:27). Today some maintain that the unusually high longevity of Biblical patriarchs are the result of an error in translation: lunar cycles were mistaken for the solar ones, and the actual ages are 13.5 times less. This gives 72 years for Methuselah, which is still an impressive number, bearing in mind the life expectancy of these times. This rationalization, however, seems doubtful to since patriarchs such as Mahalalel (ibid 5:15) and Enoch (ibid 5:21) were said to have become fathers after 65 "years." If the lunar cycle claim were accepted this would translate to an age of about 4 years and 10 months. Another Christian apologist claim is that the life span of humans has changed; originally man was to have everlasting life--had he eaten of the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden. Due to man's sin, however, God shortened man's life--first to less than 1000 years; then to less than 500 years; then to less than 200 years; then to 120 years (at the time of Moses, the bringer in of the law). These were the "four falls of mankind." Others note that age exaggeration tends to be greater in "mythical" periods in many cultures; the early emperors of Japan or China often ruled for more than a century, according to tradition. With the advent of record-keeping, age claims fell to realistic levels; even in the Bible we see King David, aged 70 years; other kings were in their 30's, 40's, and 50's.

Some of the (nonapocryphal) claimants to longevity records are (see also: "Known for attaining high age" below):

Japan currently has the greatest number of centenarians in the world, numbering over 20,000 in the year 2005. Many experts attribute this (and Japan's very high life expectancy) to the Japanese diet, which is particularly low in fats. Japanese centenarians receive a silver cup and a certificate from the Prime Minister of Japan upon their 100th birthday, honouring them for their longevity and prosperity in their lives. September 15th was subsequently named "National Respect for the Aged Day" , a national holiday in Japan.

In the United States, centenarians traditionally receive a letter from the president upon reaching their 100th birthday, congratulating them for their longevity. Willard Scott of NBC's Today show has also named them on air since 1983. In the United Kingdom, the Queen sends greetings (formerly as a telegram) on the 100th birthday and on every birthday starting with the 105th.

Among Hindus, people who touch the feet of elders are often blessed with "May you live a hundred years". In Poland, Sto lat, a wish to live a hundred years, is a traditional form of praise and good wishes; the Jewish tradition, however, is more ambitious, "May you live as long as Moses", or 120 years. Chinese emperors were hailed to live ten thousand years.


Were there Centenarians in Ancient Times?

Click for a table of 39 famous classical Greek Philosophers and Statesmen who are known to have survived past the age of 70, at least some of whom did go on to become Centenarians. While the density of centenarians per capita was much less in(civilized) ancient times than today, the data suggest that age 100 was not impossible then. While ancient demographics are biased in favor of wealthy or powerful individuals rather than the ordinary person, it is unscientific to suggest that "ordinary persons" lived longer. Grmek and Gourevitch speculate that during the Classical Greek Period, anyone who made it past the age of 5 years -- surviving all the common childhood illness of that day --had a reasonable chance of living to a ripe old age. [Life expectancy at 400 B.C. was estimated to be around 30 years of age.] One demographer of ancient civilizations reported that Greek men lived to 45 years (based on a sample size of 91), while women lived to 36.2 years (based on a sample size of 55). Curiously, the gender statistics are inverted compared to today, since child-birth was a much more traumatic experience at that time than now, and it certainly skewed female statistics downward. Also recall that it was common for average citizens to take great care in their hygiene (sanitation), Mediterranean diet (fish, figs, olive oil, wine, etc.), and exercise program (sports/gymnasium), although I suspect that there was a lot more male trauma per capita than today and that biased the statistics for men downward. [Ref. Mirko Grmek and Danielle Gourevitch, Illness in Antiquity (Fayard; 1998).]

The "bottom line" is that there is no reason to believe that there couldn't have been a few men/women in a population of 2,500 years ago who were centenarians, even if they weren't commonplace. [Source for Table: Olivier Postel-Vinay, "Histoire Le Cas de la Grece Antique," La Recherche Special -- Vivre 120 Ans, Vol. 322, p. 90 (Paris; July-August 1999). Note: La Recherche is the French equivalent of Scientific American in the English-speaking world.]

The Huffington Center on Aging at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston is another interesting source for information about Centenarians.

As reported on the font cover of USA Today (August 24, 1999), The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that the number of Americans age 100 or older will increase by more than 22 times the 1990 estimate of 37,306. In October 2001, the US Census Bureau actually reported that there were 50,454 US Centenarians (a more reasonable 35 percent increase) out of a total population of 281.4 million Americans. But by 2050, "the number of US centenarians is expected to reach 834,000 and maybe even 1 million," said Dr. Robert Butler, President of the International Longevity Center in New York City.

From present data, the number of worldwide Centenarians is around 450,000. However, if one considers only the total number of Supercentenarians (by definition, persons surviving to >= 110 years) this number falls dramatically to around 30 worldwide (See details below). To our knowledge, there are no living persons older than 120; despite the fact that there are a large number of pretenders from foreign countries, these claimants have never been rigorously validated by means of the sort of documentation that would be sufficient to prove their claim (Birth Certificates, Baptismal Certificates, Marriage Certificates, and so forth). But also, recall that the art of "record keeping" was never rigorous before the age of data processing. Persons born at home in rural areas were frequently lucky if they had a family Bible to record the event let alone the correct spelling of the parents names, their ages at the time, etc.

Other highlights form the 2000 Census Report include the following:

1. The most populous state in the nation, California, has the largest number of centenarian residents, 5,341 or 0.016 percent of its population; 2. The state with the largest percentage of centenarians is South Dakota, where 0.0033 percent of residents were 100 or over. South Dakota was followed by Iowa and the District of Columbia; 3. Of the five-year age groups, the [50-to-54] category had the largest increase, up 55 percent to 17.6 million, thanks to the "Baby Boomers"; 4. While women still outnumber men at older ages, the gender ratio in the [65-and-over] category increased from 67 men per 100 women in 1990 to 70 men per 100 women in 2000.

List of centenarians

Here is a list of well-known centenarians (with supercentenarians emphasized strongly). This list is divided into sub-lists, according to how the centenarian became well known.

Activists/non-profit leaders





Educators/school administrators


Jurists/practitioners of law

Military commanders

Musicians/Composers/music patrons


  • Dominick Geoffrey Edward Browne, 4th Baron Oranmore and Browne (1901-2002)
  • Ethel Sydney Keith, Countess of Kintore (1874-1974)
  • Frank Douglas-Pennant, 5th Baron Penrhyn (1865-1967)
  • Judith, Countess of Listowel (1903-2003)
  • Jean Pierre Francois Joseph Pineton, Marquis de Chambrun (1903-2004)
  • Cora, Countess of Clancarty (1892-1993)
  • Countess Elsa Bernadotte (1893-1996)


Politicians/government servants

Relative of someone well-known

Religious leaders/Clergymen





  • Thomas (1787-1893) and Elizabeth Morgan (1786-1891), Welsh couple, whose combined age for a married couple (209 years) is claimed to be a world record.
  • Indra Devi (1899-2002)
  • Henri Dufaux (1879-1980), aviator
  • Ida May Fuller (1874-1975), first U.S. citizen to receive a social security check
  • Eleanor Lambert (1903-2003), U.S. fashion pioneer
  • Irene Wells Pennington (1898-2003), multimillionaire oil widow
  • Connie Douglas Reeves (1901-2003), cowgirl
  • Saadi (1184-1283/1291), Iranian poet
  • Len Vale-Onslow (1900-2004), British motorcycle maker
  • Gladys Tantaquidgeon (1899-Living), Mohegan tribal matriarch
  • Catherine Uhlmeyer (1893-2002), last survivor to remember, and Adella Wotherspoon (1903-2004), last survivor of, the General Slocum disaster of 1904

Known for attaining high age

See also supercentenarian, longevity myths.

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-07-2005 02:46:47
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04