More than 31,000 in 2024: Spectacular rise in centenarians in France

Women in particular are living longer, a new report shows

Women are more likely to reach centenarian and supercentenarian ages, the study said
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France is seeing a “spectacular rise” in the number of centenarians and supercentenarians (more than 110 years old), new demographic figures show.

“Since the middle of the 20th century, and more particularly since the beginning of the 21st century, the number of centenarians has increased remarkably”, states a report from the Institut national d'études démographiques (INED), published on April 24.

There were just 200 people aged over 100 in France in 1950. This has since risen to:

  • 1970: 1,000 people

  • 2000: More than 8,000

  • 2024: More than 31,000

The rise of supercentenarians is also stark: in 1987, no-one of this age (over 110) had been recorded, but by 2024, there were 39 of them in France (including the overseas territories).

The report adds: “Assuming that current mortality trends continue, [national statistics bureau] INSEE predicts that there will be more than 200,000 centenarians in 2070.”

INED said that the numbers show “a spectacular explosion” in the number of centenarians (although it admits that they still account for less than 0.15% of the population in comparison to the 600,000 deaths every year in France).

What is leading to this longer life?

The rise can be explained by factors such as a drop in infant mortality, improved healthcare and medical advances, and comes amid rising life expectancy across much of the world.

Typically in France, the average life expectancy for women is 85.7, compared to 80 for men.

Women are more likely to reach centenarian and supercentenarian ages. 

INED figures show that in 2020, 843 women died at age 105 or older, compared to 81 men. Similarly, of the 39 supercentenarians who died in 2022, 38 were women.

“This impressive ratio is entirely due to excess male mortality, which prevails throughout life, particularly at working ages, and which reduces the number of male generations by the same amount as their female counterparts,” said INED.

Laurent Toussaint, a specialist in supercentenarians, told the AFP that many women who live to age 110 or over typically worked in “quite tough jobs, in the fresh air (such as farming) and have a diet based on healthy food”.

Antilles also overrepresented

The study also found that the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique (the ‘Antilles’ or French West Indies) have almost eight times’ more supercentenarian women than mainland France.

It said that this difference was “even more surprising” given that these territories have lower life expectancy than France (Guadeloupe has 83.5 and Martinique 82.8, compared to 85.7).

Researchers said that this could be due to factors such as the climate, lifestyle, diet and the fact that the territories are islands. This means they have factors in common with many so-called ‘Blue Zones’, which include Sardinia in Italy, Ikaria in Greece, and Okinawa in Japan. 

Residents of these zones are known for their longevity and have long been studied by researchers looking for clues to why locals live so long.

Antilles ‘robust descendants’

Yet, the other French island territory of La Réunion does not have similar statistics, leading researchers to hypothesise that the Antilles’ tragic history could have made a considerable difference to their descendants’ longevity.

Namely, the majority of the population of the Antilles is made up of “descendants of slaves who suffered during the slave trade, including the very deadly Atlantic crossing”, the study said. 

This means that people who survived the journey were “more robust”, and in turn had more robust, longer-living descendants, it suggested. Genealogical studies have already shown that half of the supercentenarians in the Antilles are all “descendants of slaves”, INED said.

However, researchers admit that this in only a theory.

“We're walking on eggshells a bit with this subject,” said France Meslé, director of research at INED and co-author of the study, to Le Parisien. “Genetic tests would have to be carried out to be able to prove it.”