How long does The World's Oldest Person have left on average?

In other words, what is one's remaining life expectancy AFTER reaching the TWOP?

Gertrude Baines, age 115. Photo by John Rabe.
As you might have guessed, the question in the headline was prompted by news that 115-year-old Gertrude Baines passed away last week in Los Angeles, thereby passing on to 114-year-old Kama Chinen of Japan the title of The World's Oldest Person (TWOP).

Baines had held the TWOP spot, so to speak, only since January.

Keeping tabs on the world's oldest person has long been a media convention akin to recording every year's first birth, so Gertrude's passing generated the obligatory news coverage and chatter, including this comment on Digg: "Is it just me or are we going to get a 'World's Oldest Person Dies' story every week if we keep figuring out who the world's oldest person is?" (As you'll see in a moment, it's just him.)

And this headline on famously snarky Fark: "The world's oldest person is dead, long live the world's oldest person."

Which got me wondering: How long, on average, do the Gertrude Baineses of the world get to reign as TWOP before sending journalists worldwide scrambling to find out who's next in line?

And, of course, the Internet was invented to answer questions of this sort.

Google "World's Oldest Person," land on Wikipedia -- which despite its flaws and quirks remains indisputably indispensible -- and you will in mere seconds find everything you ever wanted to know about TWOPs.

Except, just my luck, for how long they typically live after ascending to the top of the list; for that I had to do some light math.

Answer: one year and four months, give or take a day or two. (Records of this record have been kept only since 1955, so we're talking about 42 former TWOPs, including Gertrude Baines.)

Since I was there and in case you are wondering:

The longest-reigning TWOP was Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan, who held the title for nine years and 97 days before succumbing Feb. 21, 1986, although there remains dispute about his actual date of birth.

Briefest? Lots of competition here, as might be expected, but your winner is Emma Tillman of East Hartford, Conn., who had worn the TWOP tiara for a mere four days when she left us on Jan. 28, 2007.

Which brings us to Mary Josephine Ray of Westmoreland, N.H. ... and a few parting imponderables.

Say that like Mrs. Ray you have just moved into the No. 2 TWOP spot, right behind Kama Chinen of Japan; and, say that you've lived long enough to know that history rarely embraces those who finished second: What's you're frame of mind? Are you dying to postpone death long enough to become the 44th TWOP? Are you checking the papers every day for that inevitable news about Chinen (who, it should be noted, is your elder by a mere seven days)?

How are your friends and family looking at this situation and what might coarsely be termed your aspiration?

Sorry, the Internet can't answer these questions.

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