Does Longevity Run in Your Family?

Family History, Surnames
3 January 2018
by Samantha Johnson

I have always wondered if the secret to long life is actually just genetics.

My grandmothers are about to celebrate their 93rd and 92nd birthdays, respectively – so what does the mean for me?

Is the secret to long life in genetics? Or is there more to longevity than just DNA?

A Supercentenarian’s Secret

Emma Morano, once the oldest woman in the world.

On April 15th, 2017, Emma Morano passed away in her home in Italy at 117 years of age. At that time, she was the oldest person alive, and the last recognized person to have been born in the 1800’s.

What was her secret to longevity? According to several reports, Morano “credited her long life to her diet of raw eggs and cookies, and to staying single.” Though once married, she divorced her husband and spent a majority of her life independent.

So then is longevity attributed to diet and lifestyle choices? Or did she owe it to her genes?

The Science of Longevity

According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics, it’s hard to say.

The team has recently analyzed the genetic code of more than half a million people in an attempt to find out how and whether DNA plays a part in longevity.

Individual lifespan is impacted by a complex combination of genetics and lifestyle choices. 

The Usher Institute’s research has some interesting findings and correlations, such as

  • one year of education could add 11 months to expected lifespan
  • an increase of one body mass index unit may reduce one’s lifespan by seven months

Dr. Peter Joshi of the Usher Institute told the BBC that lifestyle choices are particularly influential.

Cultural Effects on Long Life

Though longevity may not be directly tied to your genes, you can still learn a lot from your ancestors.

Digging into trends that followed people with your surname can be a good place to start learning more.


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I looked up my grandmothers’ maiden names. People with Grandma Baker’s surname had a life expectancy virtually identical to the average in the US.

But my other grandma’s last name, Granstrom, had a higher-than-average life expectancy. In 2001, it was 88 years.

Depending on where your ancestors are from, your family may have fared completely differently, as our ancestors’ lifespans were affected by any number of environmental factors totally unrelated to genetics, including famine, war, or contagious disease.

Your surname might give you clues to some of the answers you’re looking for.

Curious? Check out our Last Names experience and type in your last name to uncover family occupations, immigration data, name meanings, and average life expectancy.

Who knows what you might discover!