There are many strategies to perform scientific research, but basically it boils down to two different approaches: quantitative research and qualitative research. These two approaches are quite distinct from one another but there is a degree of overlap, and sometimes a researcher might employ a method that integrates both approaches. So, what are these approaches, how can we use them in supercentenarian research, and how can we quantify the qualitative?

First, I’ll provide a brief but hopefully understandable explanation of quantitative and qualitative research and after that we’ll proceed to how this applies to supercentenarians.

Research Approaches

Quantitative research, which has been my go-to method for my three master’s theses, is all about numbers and statistical analysis. For example, if you have two groups of people you can compare aspects such as age, height, weight for these groups using analysis. Quantitative uses an objective approach by analyzing what can be measured, be that body mass index or responses to a survey, and often the sample size (meaning the number of participants or observation) is large. This is done in order to hopefully generalize the results to a larger population. The approach is structured, and each variable (meaning response option) has a clear definition so that everyone answers the same question.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, is about understanding the meaning of a person’s words, thoughts, and experiences. There are several forms of analysis that can be made, but it is often about a researcher interviewing a person about a certain phenomenon and analyzing what the person has said afterwards or assessing written texts for potential similarities. Qualitative research is more influenced by subjective insights, meaning that responses might not be generalizable to every person, and the results might also be influenced by the researcher’s preconceived understanding of a subject. Given that this research is more time-consuming per respondent, the sample sizes are smaller, but the collected data has much more detail. This approach has a varying structure depending on the type of method that is used but can range from very structured (Yes/No-responses) to very flexible (open-ended questions that evolve based on the responses given).

The mixed method is thus an integration of both research methods that can be used to get a more comprehensive understanding by utilizing the strengths of each research method and integrating both forms of data in the analysis.

Analyzing Supercentenarians

Supercentenarian research is an interdisciplinary effort that requires the researcher to be skilled in both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. While age validation might seem straightforward, it is far from it, and the person performing the research must devote time to scope through various forms of media and documentation in order to ascertain that a supercentenarian claimant is as old as they claim. Age validation is a process that takes time and precision if the results are to be seen as reliable. You can’t rely on hearsay or assume that documentation exists without actually checking it.

So now that you have validated a supercentenarian, what can you do with the information that you have obtained?

Well, you could employ the quantitative research method that I explained earlier and test all sorts of variables. Are there differences in supercentenarian survival between different regions? Do female and male supercentenarians differ in age and quantity? Do relatives of supercentenarians live longer than the rest of the population? Are there patterns of seasonality in when supercentenarians were born or died?

But what about the qualitative approach?

Naturally, there’s plenty of information that can be extracted here as well. By interviewing the oldest people of all time, we can gain an understanding relating to if these people have something in common. Are supercentenarians more resilient (being able to bounce back from hardship) than other people? How do these people view ageing, and can they accommodate for their losses? Did you follow a certain diet?

So far, most supercentenarian research has focused on one method or another, but there is much to be learned from also integrating the two approaches.

Quantifying the Qualitative

Right now, we are starting a new project at LongeviQuest to maximize what we can learn from supercentenarians. For years, colossal amounts of supercentenarian data have gone unused. By synthesizing this data, we hope to be able to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a supercentenarian and how these individuals differ from the rest of the population in various ways.

For each supercentenarian, there exists plenty of material in excess of the documentation necessary to validate their age. Interviews with them or their relatives, media reports, and even prior research projects can all provide several interesting pieces of information about the lives of supercentenarians. In the past, these excess data points have mostly treated by researchers as amusing tidbits during the validation process. But what if we could quantify this qualitative information? Can we see patterns in how many of the oldest people of all time have had a spiritual side to them, or perhaps how long they were able to remain independent?

By extracting this qualitative data and quantifying it, we will be able to have a much clearer understanding of supercentenarians and various trends within this population. This information can be used for a variety of purposes, and we will have to see where this road leads.


There are several forms of research methodologies, and we can use both when researching supercentenarians. Most research so far has mostly concerned the quantitative aspects concerning their ages, but the qualitative aspects have been missed. By extracting qualitative information about supercentenarians, we hope to gain a greater understanding of the human ageing process.