The evolution of human mortality

How long until we live forever?

The general consensus is that we are getting older and living longer. Despite consequences and kryptonite, it is getting easier to stay alive. Heaven can wait, it seems. Every year each baby born is expected to live 3 months longer than its predecessor of the previous year. This has been the case for the last 160 years. A stunning display of the ability we humans have to prolong the length of life. And it is this simple fact of life that economists and politicians are struggling to deal with — an ageing population and not enough resources to go around.

But outside of this there are some interesting and important questions to pose when thinking about human mortality. Does our mortality have a basis in our genetics? Researchers, publishing in PNAS, wanted to know if this reduction of mortality was as a result of a possible genetic shift or something much simpler. They wanted to understand the evolutionary context for variation in human mortality patterns — particularly comparing those of today to hunter-gatherer populations. Modern-day hunter-gatherer populations which are used as a proxy in evolutionary terms.

What they found was a significant decrease in human mortality. The vast majority of this mortality reduction has only occurred since 1900 and has been experienced by only about 4 of the 8,000 human generations that have ever lived. An astounding fact.

The average age-speci