15

I was studying music and saw in a music score sheet that Tomaso Albinoni lived 80 years. I know that long before that people had lived to that age. I would like to know just how common that was. Did people back then see those people as we see people with 100+ years today?

  • 5
    Most people died in their early childhood. If you survived those years you have a good chance of living a rather lengthy life. – Semaphore Feb 11 '15 at 5:43
13

Actuarial science was just getting started in the 17th century, so we can answer this question with some specificity--for London and Breslow, anyway.

John Graunt made the following life table for London in 1662 (source):

enter image description here

Around 1% of Londoners were older than 77.

Edmond Halley (of comet fame) made the following table for Breslau in 1693. Note that births (Age 0) = 1238. Also, there were 107 people over the age of 84, but Halley does not break them down by year (source):

enter image description here

All told, around .75% of Breslau's population was over 80. This is similar enough to Graunt's table that these tables are taken to be roughly representative of northern European cities at the time.

In the contemporary American population, 3.6% of the population is over 80 and .1% of the population is aged 95 to 99. So to address your final point, living to 80 in the 17th century was more like living to 90 today. But like @Semaphore points out above, these stats aren't directly comparable because mortality was more concentrated in childhood than it is now. Anyone who wants to calculate life expectancy at age 21 in 1693 and compare to the same in 2010 is more than welcome to.

  • @T.E.D.: Totally agree. I did notice that demographers were willing to estimate life expectancies from these tables, even though they lack the longitudinal element that would allow you to follow a cohort from birth. They must have figured that as long as birth rates were stable (and there weren't idiosyncratic mortality events--wars and plagues), then estimates made from cross-sectional data were still informative even if problematic. – two sheds Feb 11 '15 at 20:37
0

The whole "people died young" thing is somewhat exaggerated. First of all, before 1800 there was less of a focus on age in general, although in 19th century in the United States this tendency reversed and became almost technical. For example, in the 1870-1900 period you can often find death notices that say things like so-and-so lived for 64 years, 4 months and 5 days.

In the old days people ate a lot less and exercised more, which are healthy tendencies. If you avoided common causes of death, like childbirth, you could easily live to be old. Living a long time is more a function of bodily quality and integrity than medical intervention. If you visit 90-year-olds in nursing homes you will find that they rarely go to the doctor. People who require medical assistance tend to be the ones that die young. The doctors never even see the long-lived.

  • 6
    Anecdotes are not data, but the 90 year olds I used to regularly visit were the first people I knew to have day-of-the-week pill dispensers. The whole point of a nursing home is to have nurses handy to help with their constant medical needs. – T.E.D. Feb 11 '15 at 20:33
  • when you are in a nursing home, the doctors come to you. – Oldcat Feb 12 '15 at 0:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.