Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 99(12):8442-8447, 2002. Paper Website abstract bibtex
Although survival to old age is known to have strong environmental and behavioral components, mortality differences between social groups tend to diminish or even disappear at older ages. Hypothesizing that surviving to extreme old age entails a substantial familial predisposition for longevity, we analyzed the pedigrees of 444 centenarian families in the United States. These pedigrees included 2,092 siblings of centenarians, whose survival was compared with 1900 birth cohort survival data from the U.S. Social Security Administration. Siblings of centenarians experienced a mortality advantage throughout their lives relative to the U.S. 1900 cohort. Female siblings had death rates at all ages about one-half the national level; male siblings had a similar advantage at most ages, although diminished somewhat during adolescence and young adulthood. Relative survival probabilities for these siblings increase markedly at older ages, reflecting the cumulative effect of their mortality advantage throughout life. Compared with the U.S. 1900 cohort, male siblings of centenarians were at least 17 times as likely to attain age 100 themselves, while female siblings were at least 8 times as likely.