STUMP » Articles » Mortality with Meep: Omega -- And Was the Oldest Person (Recorded) a Fraud? » 2 January 2019, 06:25

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Mortality with Meep: Omega -- And Was the Oldest Person (Recorded) a Fraud?  


2 January 2019, 06:25

Let’s start with the juicier story:

History’s oldest woman a fraud? Russian researchers claim 122-year-old Jeanne Calment was actually a 99-year-old imposter

France’s Jeanne Calment, widely recognized as history’s oldest woman upon her death at age 122, may have actually been a 99-year-old imposter, according to an explosive new theory being pushed by Russian researchers.

According to a paper written by mathematician Nikolay Zak and supported by gerontologist Valery Novoselov, the real Jeanne Calment died in 1934 at the age of 59. The woman who achieved fame as history’s oldest person was actually her daughter Yvonne, who assumed her dead mother’s identity in order to dodge steep French inheritance taxes.

More at the link.

So, the general evidence is:

1. She didn’t look all that old (more on that in a minute)
2. The death record for her daughter looks odd
3. The son-in-law lived with his mother after death of his spouse, and never remarried
4. Pictures of the old woman resemble old pics of the daughter than the mother
5. No one else has gotten close to her record.

And that there was a motive: to evade inheritance taxes.


However, there are stronger arguments against fraud:

I don’t have a particularly strong command of statistics like our host here does, but I have educated myself a lot on supercentenarian data and particular cases (especially Jeanne Calment’s) for many years. The Calment case has long been considered the most thoroughly validated case ever, setting the gold standard for human longevity validations. Because of this, and for other obvious reasons coming from to my passion for studying supercentenarians, I have a bias towards disbelieving the linked article calling it into question (not sure if that first reason should even be called a “bias”, though).

This is generally misleading, and it’s flat-out untrue that “all other SCs are several years apart from them”. The third-oldest known person died fairly recently at 117 years and 260 days, and there are several others who died within 4 months short of that age. So there are 9 people who died at 116, a cluster roughly around 117.5 years (plus an old claim of a Japanese woman living to 118 that, last I heard, seemed plausible to the current experts), and then Sarah Knauss who died at roughly 119.25 years and finally Calment who died at just under [122.5 years.] This makes Calment definitely an outlier, but the second-oldest person, Knauss, looks like exactly where she should be. See this list. Again, I don’t have a strong background in statistics, but this looks exactly like I’d expect the tail of a bell curve to look like.

Yup, extreme distributions do end up with these gaps – I see this in hurricane/earthquake data, for instance.

There’s more in the discussion thread here, including comparing shapes of noses (Jeanne’s nose was pointier than her daughter Yvonne’s… and that was true of the old person seen later), that Jeanne’s husband outlived Yvonne as well, and wouldn’t pretend his daughter was his wife, and that this wasn’t a family of recluses and they stayed in the same spot for a long time, so a whole bunch of people would have had to have been in on the fraud.


Because of omega!

Most current mortality tables use an omega of 120, and Jeanne is the only person we know who has broken that age!

More seriously, given the precision we can actually achieve with mortality tables, it would take more than a couple people being older than 120 before we actually had to change anything. For most purposes, and remember the true thing we care about is the money result: what’s paid for life insurance proceeds (so that’s mortality at younger ages that we care about) and what’s paid out in income annuities (there, we do care about advanced ages.)

I’m not doing a sensitivity analysis, but that 1 out of 10 billion-ish people reaching above age 120 isn’t going to move the needle on annuity reserves.

So we actuaries are safe for now.

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