Profiles of Ethiopian centenarians: A qualitative inquiry

Samson Chane, Margaret E. Adamek


As global aging advances, the number of centenarians worldwide is greatly increasing.   Most of what is known about centenarians comes the Global North.  It is not clear what factors contribute to longevity of centenarians in impoverished, mostly rural areas of Global South nations that still lack basic amenities. Cultural differences in the profile, lifestyles, and needs of centenarians in Africa have yet to be documented. Using a case study design, this descriptive inquiry investigated the profiles of centenarians in Ethiopia including religion, marriage, education, occupation, income, and living arrangement. Data were generated through in-depth interviews with nine centenarians (1 woman, 8 men) and were analyzed using descriptive narrative analysis. Respondents were between 100 and 108 years old. All nine were adherents of Orthodox Christianity, had been married, and were great-grandparents. Their adult lives were marked by both residential and marital stability. The Ethiopian centenarians persevered through many losses and hardships with the help of strong community-based social networks.. Unlike studies of centenarians in the Global North, most respondents were male and had strict religious upbringings. Understanding the unique profiles of centenarians in the Global South will help to inform research and practice with this growing population of the oldest-old.


centenarians; Ethiopia; qualitative inquiry; Global South; oldest-old

Full Text:



Aend Ethiopia. 2010. “A 128 -year-old Ethiopian who believed to be the world's oldest man.” [Video]. Youtube.

Afonso, Rosa Marina, Oscar Ribeiro, Maria Vaz Patto, et al. 2018. “Reaching 100 in the Countryside: Health Profile and Living Circumstances of Portuguese Centenarians from the Beira Interior Region.” Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research 2018, Article ID 8450468.

Almenas-Velasco, Angeles and Julita Ortiz-Marin. 2013. “A study of centenarians in Puerto Rico from a sociological perspective.” Submitted to the 20th IAGG International Congress.

Andersen, Stacy L., Paola Sebastiani, Daniel A. Dworkis, Lori Feldman, and Thomas T. Perls. 2012. “Health span approximates life span among many centenarians: Compression of morbidity at the approximate limit of life span.” Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 67(4): 395–405.

Bohman, Doris M., Neltjie C. van Wyk, and Sirkka-Liisa Ekman. 2009. “Tradition in Transition: Intergenerational Relations with Focus on the Aged and their Family Members in a South African Context.” Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences 23(3): 446–55.

Boyce, Carolyn and Palena Neale. 2006. Conducting In-Depth Interviews: A Guide for Designing and Conducting In-Depth Interviews for Evaluation Input. Watertown: Path Finder International.

Buono, Marirosa D., Ornella Urciuoli, and Diego De Leo. 1998. “Quality of Life and Longevity: A Study of Centenarians.” Age and Ageing 27, (2): 16.

Central Statistical Agency. (CSA). 2013, August. Population projection of Ethiopia for all regions at woreda level from 2014 to 2017. Addis Ababa: Central Statistical Agency.

Chernetsov, Sevir. 2005. “Traditional Christian education.” In Encyclopaedis Aethiopica, Vol 2, edited by S. Uhlig, 228-30. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Cohen, Barney and Jane Menken. (Eds.). 2006. Aging in Sub-Saharan Africa: Recommendations for Furthering Research. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Creswell, John W. 2018. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. Los Angeles: Sage.

Economic Commission for Africa. 2016, March. The Demographic Profile of African Countries. Addis Ababa: Author.

Ethiopian Oldies. 2012, July 17. Nigatuwa Kelkay Sewnetua. [Video].

Fana Television. 2019, November 10. “138 year old man.” (in Amharic).

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Population Census Commission. December 2008. Summary and Statistical Report of the 2007 Population and Housing Census. Addis Ababa.

Forte-Gomes, Marilia M. and Cassio M. Turra. 2009. “The Number of Centenarians in Brazil: Indirect Estimates Based on Death Certificates.” Demographic Research 20(20): 495-502.

Giraldo, Gloria. 2009. “Counting to 100: A First Look at Cuba’s National Centenarian Study.” MEDICC Review 11(4): 17-19.

Grundy, Emily and Michael Murphy. 2007. Marital Status and Family Support for the Oldest-old in Great Britain. In Human Longevity, Individual Life Duration, and the Growth of the Oldest-Old Population, edited by Jean-Marie Robine, Eileen M. Crimmins, Shiro Horiuchi and Yi Zeng. Vol 4, 415-436. Dordrecht: Springer.

Holstege, Henne, Nina Beker, Tjitske Dijkstra, et al. 2018. “The 100-plus Study of Cognitively Healthy Centenarians: Rationale, Design and Cohort Description.” European Journal of Epidemiology 33(12): 1229-49.

Hooyman, Nancy R., Kevin Y. Kawamoto, and H. Asuman Kiyak. 2016. Aging Matters: An Introduction to Social Gerontology. New York: Pearson.

Jeune, Bernard and V. Kannisto. 1997. “Emergence of Centenarians and Super-Centenarians.” In Longevity: To the Limits and Beyond. Research and Perspectives in Longevity, edited by Jean-Marie Robine, J.W. Vaupel, Bernard Jeune, and M. Allard. New York: Springer.

Johnson, Richard W. and Joshua M. Wiener. February 2006. A Profile of Frail Older Americans and their Caregivers. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Kropf, Nancy and Katherine L Pugh. 1995. “Life Expectancy: Social Work with Centenarians.” Social Work 18: 121-37.

Legard, Robin, Jill Keegan, and Kit Ward. 2003. “In-depth interviews.” In Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers, edited by Jane Ritchie and Jane Lewis. 138-169. Los Angeles: Sage.

Lymbery, S. 2005. Social Work with Older People: Context, Policy and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage.

Martin, Peter, and YouSun Baek. 2018. “Centenarian”. In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Lifespan Human Development, edited by Marc H. Bornstein. 329-331. Los Angeles: Sage.

Miles, Matthew B., A. Michael Huberman, and Johnny Saldaña. 2014. Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook (3rd Ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

NewsBreaker. 2013, September 12. “Oldest Person Ever: Ethiopian Man Says he's 160 Years Old.” [Video]. Youtube.

Pankhurst, Robert. 1989. “The Great Ethiopian Influenza (Ye Hedar Beshita) Epidemic of 1918”, Ethiopian Medical Journal 27 (4): 235-42.

Pin, Stephanie and Dario Spini. 2016. “Meeting the Needs of the Growing Very Old Population: Policy Implications for a Global Challenge.” Journal of Aging & Social Policy 28(3): 218-31.

Ribeiro, Oscar, Laetitia Teixeiral, Lia Araújo and Constanca Paúl, C. 2016. “Health Profile of Centenarians in Portugal: A Census-Based Approach.” Population Health Metrics 14(13): 1-6.

Richmond, Robyn L., Jenaleen Law, and Frances KayLambkin. 2012. “Research Morbidity Profiles and Lifetime Health of Australian Centenarians.” Australasian Journal on Ageing 31(4): 227-32.

Ritchie, Jane, Jane Lewis, and Gillian Elam. 2003. “Designing and Selecting Samples.” In Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Science Students and Researchers. Edited by Jane Ritchie and Jane Lewis. 77-108. Los Angeles: Sage.

Robin, Jean-Marie and Saran Cubaynes. March 2017. “Worldwide Demography of Centenarians.” Mechanisms of Ageing and Development 165 (Part B): 59-67.

Sadana, Rita, Andrea D. Foebel, Alicia N. Williams, and John R. Beard. 2013. “Population Aging, Longevity, and the Diverse Contexts of the Oldest Old.” Public Policy & Aging Report 23(20): 18-25.

Serra, Valentina, Jessica Watson, David Sinclair, and Dylan Kneale. 2011. Living Beyond 100: A Report on Centenarians. London: International Longevity Centre.

Sokolinski, Eugenia. 2007. “Merigeta.” In S. Uhlig (ED.), Encyclopaedis Aethiopica, 3, p. 786. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Teixeiraa, Laetitia, Lia Araújoa, Daniela Joppe, and Oscar Ribeiroa. 2017. “Centenarians in Europe.” Maturitas, 104: 90-95.

Tettamanti, Mauro and Gabriella Marcon. 2018. “Cohort profile: ‘Centenaria Trieste’ (CaT): A Study of the Health Status of Centenarians in a Small Defined Area of Italy.” British Medical Journal, Open 2018;8:e019250

Transitional Government of Ethiopia Office of the Population and Housing Census Commission. 1991. The 1984 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia: Analytical Report. Addis Ababa.

United Nations. 2019a. World Population Prospects 2019 Highlights. New York: United Nations.

United Nations. (UN). 2019b. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 revision. New York: United Nations.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Help Age International. 2012. Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and a Challenge. London: UNFPA.

UNFPA. 2019, November. Government of Ethiopia/UNFPA 8th Country Program, 2016-2020. London: UNFPA.

United States Census Bureau. 2012, December. Centenarians: 2010 Census Special Report. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau.

Vestal, T.M. 2005. “Modern education.” In Encyclopaedis Aethiopica, Vol.2 edited by S. Uhlig. 234-237. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Weninger, S. 2010. “Wéddase Maryam”. In Encyclopaedis Aethiopica, Vol.4, edited by S. Uhlig. 1173. Weisbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Wilmoth, John R. and Jean-Marie Robine. 2003. “The World Trend in Maximum Life Span: Evolutionary, Ecological, and Demographic Perspectives.” Population & Development Review, 29, 239-57.

Yin, Robert. K. 2003. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. (3rd Ed.) Los Angeles: Sage.

Blinded for Review. 2020.

Zimmer, Zachary. 2008. “Health and Living Arrangement Transitions among China’s Oldest-Old.” Research on Aging, 27(5): 215-34.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Samson Chane, Margaret E. Adamek

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.