Until recently octogenarians were unusual and centenarians rare. Today, close to half of female deaths and a third of male deaths in developed countries occur among those above age 80, and 100,000 or more centenarians may celebrate the turn of the century. Data bases have not kept up with this new demography: researchers are thwarted by the lack of more extensive, more reliable data on mortality and morbidity at advanced ages. The Odense Archive of Population Data on Aging was established in 1992 at Odense University Medical School to help meet the pressing need.

        This monograph by Vaino Kannisto, former United Nations advisor on demographic and social statistics, is the first of a series that will analyze data contained in the Odense Archive of Population Data on Aging. It is fitting that Kannisto is the author of the first monograph because the core set of data in the archive was assembled, tested for quality, and converted into cohort mortality histories by him. These data, which pertain to death counts and population counts by year of age, year of birth, and current year over the last four decades or so in some thirty countries, permit the estimation of death rates after age 80. Also included in the data base and analyzed in this report are comparable materials on England and Wales, made available by A. Roger Thatcher, former Director of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and Registrar-General of England and Wales. Kannisto and Thatcher used the same extinct-cohort method to estimate population counts from death counts.

        Stimulus for the establishment of the Kannisto-Thatcher Oldest-Old Database was provided by Peter Laslett, Advisory Director of Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, who invited Kannisto, Thatcher and me to join him in an ongoing Cambridge-based project on Maximal Length of Life. With research funding provided by the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the Danish Research Councils, the Kannisto and Thatcher data bases were computerized at the Aging Research Unit of the Centre for Health and Social Policy at Odense University Medical School. In addition to Kannisto, Thatcher, and myself, Jens Lauritsen, Kirill Andreev, and Zeng Xuhui played major roles in this task. Lauritsen and Andreev are co-authors, with Kannisto, of the data annex of this monograph.

        The Kannisto-Thatcher Oldest-Old Database and several other data bases relevant to population studies of aging comprise the Odense Archive of Population Data on Aging. The other data bases include the following.

        Hans Lundström has completed a data base of highly reliable death counts and populations counts for Sweden by single year of time since 1865 for ages 50 and older.

        Kirill Andreev and Axel Skyllhe, with considerable help from Ulla Larsen and Jens Lauritsen, have created a similar data base for Denmark, with ages from birth onwards and starting in 1830.

        James R. Carey, Professor at the University of California at Davis, and James W. Curtsinger, Professor at the University of Minnesota, have contributed their data on the lifespans of fruitflies. Their experiments, by far the largest concerning the mortality of any non-human species, permit estimation of death rates at advanced ages for Medflies, Mexican fruit flies and Drosophila.

        Under the leadership of Professors Mogens Hauge and Bent Harvald, the Danish Twin Registry was established at Odense University Medical School. Data on lifespans of twins born in Denmark between 1870 and 1930 have been included in the Odense Archive of Population Data on Aging. These data are uniquely valuable for genetic studies of aging: no other twin registry traces, from childhood on, twins born in the 19th century.

        Additional data are being assembled and added to the Archive. The KannistoThatcher, Lundström and Danish data bases on human mortality are being regularly updated and, for some countries, extended further back in time and to younger ages. Additional fruit fly data are being collected. Data, both from historical and archaeological sources, are being gathered pertaining to changes in the length of human lifespans from the Mesolithic to modem times. Information about the health, morbidity, and disability of elderly Danish twins and of Danish centenarians will be provided by research projects now underway.

        The Kannisto-Thatcher Oldest-Old Database and the larger Odense Archive of Population Data on Aging are managed by the Aging Research Unit of the Centre for Health and Social Policy at the Odense University Medical School. Computerized data from the Archive are available through the Danish Data Archives, a division of the Danish national library system, located in Odense. Researchers interested in using data from the Archive should write to me at the Aging Research Unit, Odense University Medical School, Winsloewparken 17, 5000 Odense, Denmark.

Professor James W. Vaupel

Updated by V. Castanova, 1 March 1999