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Keywords:

  • Amish;
  • longevity;
  • heritability

Abstract

Although a familial contribution to human longevity is recognized, the nature of this contribution is largely unknown. We have examined the familial contribution to life span in the Old Order Amish (OOA) population of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Analyses were conducted on 1,655 individuals, representing all those born prior to 1890 and appearing in the most widely available genealogy, surviving until at least age 30 years, and with known date of death. Mean age at death (±SD) in this population was 70.7 ± 15.6 years, and this did not change appreciably over time. Parental and offspring ages at death were significantly correlated, as were ages of death among siblings. Offspring longevity was correlated with longevity of both parents, and in more or less additive fashion. For example, mean offspring age at death was 69.4 ± 15.3 years in individuals for whom both parents died before the age of 75 years (n = 280) and increased to 73.5 ± 16.0 years in individuals for whom neither parent died before the age of 75 years (n = 311). These differences were highly significant (P = 0.006). We estimated heritability of life span to be 25% ± 5%, suggesting that the additive effects of genes account for one quarter of the total variability in life span in the OOA. We conclude that longevity is moderately heritable in the OOA, that the genetic effects are additive, and that genetic influences on longevity are likely to be expressed across a broad range of ages. Published 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.