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Human mortality improvement in evolutionary context.

Burger, Oskar F., Baudisch, Annette, Vaupel, Jim (2012) Human mortality improvement in evolutionary context. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, . pp. 18210-18214. ISSN 0027-8424. (doi:10.1073/pnas.1215627109)


Life expectancy is increasing in most countries and has exceeded 80 in several, as low-mortality nations continue to make progress in averting deaths. The health and economic implications of mortality reduction have been given substantial attention, but the observed malleability of human mortality has not been placed in a broad evolutionary context. We quantify the rate and amount of mortality reduction by comparing a variety of human populations to the evolved human mortality profile, here estimated as the average mortality pattern for ethnographically observed hunter-gatherers. We show that human mortality has decreased so substantially that the difference between hunter-gatherers and today’s lowest mortality populations is greater than the difference between hunter-gatherers and wild chimpanzees. The bulk of this mortality reduction has occurred since 1900 and has been experienced by only about 4 of the roughly 8,000 human generations that have ever lived. Moreover, mortality improvement in humans is on par with or greater than the reductions in mortality in other species achieved by laboratory selection experiments and endocrine pathway mutations. This observed plasticity in age-specific risk of death is at odds with conventional theories of aging.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1073/pnas.1215627109
Uncontrolled keywords: biodemography, cross-species comparison, life history evolution, phenotypic plasticity, human lifespan
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > Biological Anthropology
Depositing User: Oskar Burger
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2015 08:08 UTC
Last Modified: 29 May 2019 16:07 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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