Background: The relative importance of genetic influences on longevity was studied on data from the population-based Swedish Twin Registry.
Methods: A sample of 3,656 identical and 6,849 like-sexed fraternal twin pairs was studied regarding mortality rates and within-pair similarity for age at death. Genetic and environmental contributions to variation in longevity, expressed by integrated mortality rates, were estimated from a subsample of 1,734 twin pairs reared together and 130 twin pairs reared apart from the cohorts born 1886 to 1900.
Results: The intraclass correlation coefficients suggested that the genetic effect was small, and, for males, perhaps absent. Among pairs in which both twins died relatively young and among pairs in which both twins lived until very old age, the variance in age at death seemed to have no genetic component. Model fitting procedures based on twins reared apart and twins reared together indicated that most of the variance in longevity was explained by environmental factors.
Conclusions: Over the total age range examined, a maximum of around one third of the variance in longevity is attributable to genetic factors, and almost all of the remaining variance is due to nonshared, individual specific environmental factors. The evidence that genetic factors play a minor role depending upon age at death merits further examination.