How Do You Live to Be 100? You Might Be Surprised.

In a recent study, researchers examined the relationship between social and environmental factors and living to be a centenarian. While some of the results were expected, others were surprising.

The researchers obtained data on people who had died in Washington State, as well as data on environmental factors in the areas where the individuals lived. Data on registered deaths between 2011 and 2015 were from death certificates obtained from the Washington State Department of Health. The researchers only included persons 75 and better, for a total of 144,665 records. The age criteria served to eliminate the influence of factors from deaths at younger ages, such as accidents. Individual-level data included sex, race, education, marital status, and residence at time of death. Environmental factors included measures of neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage, percent of population with access to public transit, walkability, percent of working-age population, access to primary care physicians, urban-rural classification, air pollution, and access to green space.

The researchers found that some environmental and individual factors were associated with living to age 100. The environmental characteristics related to becoming a centenarian were neighborhood walkability, area socioeconomic disadvantage, and percent of the population that was working age. Education level, marital status, and sex (with women more likely to live longer) were individual factors associated with longevity.

However, the relationship between education level and marital status on outcomes was not in the expected direction. While previous studies have showed that higher levels of education and being married or partnered were associated with a longer life, this study found that lower levels of education and being widowed, divorced/separated, or never married were related to living longer. The authors suggested that higher levels of education may be more related to longevity among younger populations and less of a factor among older adults, which has been less studied. Similarly, fewer studies have focused on the impact of marriage on longevity of older adults. The authors stated that marital stress among this group may have had a negative impact on health. They recommended further research to explain these findings.


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Bhardwaj R, Amiri S, Buchwald D, Amram O. Environmental Correlates of Reaching a Centenarian Age: Analysis of 144,665 Deaths in Washington State for 2011−2015. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. (2020);17(8),2828.

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