The Most Frequent Adult Length of Life in the Eighteenth Century: The Experience of the French-Canadians

By Nadine Ouellette, Jean-Marie Robine, Robert Bourbeau, Bertrand Desjardins, Catriona Dutreuilh

Over the last ten years, the modal age at death has become a focus of research on human longevity, notably because it provides information about the most frequent adult age at death without being influenced by mortality conditions at early ages. Little is known about levels and trends in adult modal age at death in historical populations. The RPQA is a historical data source recognized for its reliability which sheds new light on adult longevity in the eighteenth century. The data used, detailed by sex and year of age, cover the period 1740-1799. To estimate modal age at death, this study uses an innovative nonparametric P-spline smoothing method known to be flexible and highly effective. The analysis reveals that the most frequent age at death of adult French-Canadians increased over the period, rising from around 73 years to almost 76 among women, and from around 71 years to more than 74 for men. The specific living conditions of the French-Canadian population at that time may explain this substantial rise.


  • modal age at death
  • longevity
  • mortality
  • French-Canadians
  • Registre de la population du Québec ancien
  • P-spline smoothing
  • historical demography
  • eighteenth century
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