Not only is the world’s population aging faster than ever before, but individuals are living longer in general. Most people will live into their sixties – and if they reside in developed countries – into their 70s.
The number of people living to 100 has doubled since the 1990s; however, research suggests that most people do not want to live this long.
The will to live to an advanced age depends heavily on a person’s values and perceived health status.
The older and healthier the person is, the more they desire longevity.
Top reasons for wanting to live a long life are curiosity, simple enjoyment, and maximizing time with friends and family.
Whether it is desirable or not, living to 100 years old is more likely. In fact, the number of people living at this age has doubled since the 1990s.
Living to 100 – research findings:
A 2022 poll by Edward Jones and Age Wave of 11, 000 American adults revealed that almost 70% wanted to live to 100, but with the caveats of still having their health and a sense of purpose. Interestingly, the bulk of evidence viewed apart from this poll is that making it to 100 is not as attractive across cultures.
In fact, more than three-quarters of 715 university students from Norway, Poland, Russia, and Austria in 2020 revealed that they don't want to live until 100 years old. In 2017, a study of more than 1600 U.S. college students revealed that only 26.4% would choose to live this long.
Additionally, a study published in 2016 of 900 Finish people aged 75 to 96 showed that one in three adults hoped for this milestone, and in the same country in 2012, just 37% of approximately 700 men in late life wished to make it. And finally, findings from a 2007 survey in Germany revealed that fewer than 20% of people wished to be centenarians.
Who wishes to reach 100 years old?
Those who desired longevity in the 2016 study above tended to be nonagenarians – over 90 years old—as well as male and healthier, at least by their own report. Interestingly, the older the respondent, the older they thought they might live. Also, those who’ve watched a close family member reach this milestone are more apt to set one for themselves.
Expressed reasons for wanting to live longer included:
- Real curiosity;
- Possessing a zest for life;
- Experiencing current happiness;
- Having an important role to play.
Reasons people don't want to live this long
Older adults who didn’t wish to become centenarians cited reasons of poverty, loneliness, and lack of purpose. They feared developing a physical disability, dementia, or pain or becoming dependent and therefore a burden to others. Additionally, respondents said it was unnatural or that they felt complete in their life’s work.
The will to live matters
The American Psychological Association defines the will to live as “the determination to live in spite of an adverse situation (e.g., a severe illness or disabling disorder) or extreme conditions.”
Research suggests that the will to live supports an individual’s chances of survival – regardless of their present age, sex, or health problems. As an example, in the aforementioned 2012 survey of older men in Finland, mortality was 5% lower after three years in those with greater longevity as their goal.
The view from 100
Current U.S. data reveals that one person in 5,000 is a centenarian and that 85% of them are women. Research is limited regarding how these adults feel about reaching such advanced elderhood or continuing on. From Araújo et al.'s qualitative research of 121 centenarians, we get some insight into what the view is from 100.
Table 1. Reasons for willingness to live longer in people 100-years-old and older from Araújo et al., 2021.
|Examples of quotations
|I'm ready as soon as God understands [it's the time], but I want to live at least until I am 103 years old.
|I would like to see my grandson's [university] graduation.
|Conditional wish: If in the presence of similar functioning levels and without being a burden
|[Would like to live] one more year […] but without being a burden to others or being bedridden.
|Now that the good weather comes [springtime approaching], I want to live!
*Of note from this work, equal numbers of the participants desired and declined longer life – about 31% each - while 38% did not indicate a preference.
What we know from available research is that most adults – both younger and older – do not hold 100 as a goal. The reasons for this are varied and tied to personal beliefs as well as lived experience. Study findings also support the idiom “if there’s is a will, there’s a way” in that the ambition to live longer influences survival.
- Age and Ageing. Do you want to live to be 100? Answers from older people.
- Frontiers in Psychology. To Live or Die: What to Wish at 100 Years and Older.
- Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Do you wish to live to the age of 100? A survey of older men.
- Boston University School of Medicine. The New England Centenarian Study.
- Age and Ageing. Will-to-live and survival in a 10-year follow-up among older people.
- World Health Organization. Ageing and health.