One Hundred Years, More or Less

Back in 1922, living to age 100 was rare — extremely rare. As this New York Times Magazine article described:

“When we read of someone’s living away beyond his one hundredth birthday we may feel pretty sure that the fable is narrated of an Indian or a negro or an illiterate white, and that documentary support of the claim is not forthcoming. Like the moving of mountains, it is a matter of faith.”

According to the 1920 Census, that year there were 4,267 centenarians, or about .004% of the population.

As lifespans lengthen, those stats have exploded since then. The Census Bureau estimates there are currently 97,914 centenarians in the U.S. That’s about .029% of the population.

That means the centenarian percent of the population was only about 13% as large back then as it is today. Another way of saying that is the percentage is 7.3x as large now.

Also curious that the 1922 article would refer to somebody celebrating “his” 100th birthday, since the vast majority of centenarians then were female. The 1920 Census said there were 2,706 female centenarians and 1,561 males, or 63.4% women.

That’s a fairly large discrepancy even as it was, but it’s actually considerably higher now. The Census Bureau currently projects that there are 73,427 female centarians but only 24,487 males, meaning 74.9% women.

As the song by the band Five for Fighting goes: “You’ve only got a hundred years to live.”

One Hundred Years, More or Less

Published: Sunday, June 4, 1922

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