I know that they live significantly longer than humans (or at least Bilbo did) and I was wondering whether they age at the same rate as human bodies, and just live longer, or if their bodies age more slowly than humans and so die at the same body-clock-age-time (which I just coined). I hope you have some idea what I am talking about. I am asking about the biological aging, not longevity.

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    slower it appears, bilbo was 50 years old, and was extremly spry, in the hobbit, very few humans have the stamina he did at 50. frodo was also 50, compared to pippin who was 26, and other then maturity, they all physically appeared similar. – Himarm Mar 10 '16 at 0:53
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    If they aged slower, Pippin might not yet be an adult at 26 – CHEESE Mar 10 '16 at 0:59
  • Possible duplicate of How did Gerontius Took get to be so old? – Rogue Jedi Mar 10 '16 at 1:04
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    @CHEESE he wasn't. I believe that Hobbits were considered adult at the age 33 – Yasskier Mar 10 '16 at 1:13
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    @CHEESE how any biological life-form ages is not directly proportional to how quickly they mature. It takes humans 20 years to reach final growth period does that mean it's always a 1 to 4 ratio? So if humans lived 200 years I think it would take them 40 years to reach physical maturity? No. Different organisms reach maturity at different speeds as well. So it's impossible to say, other than that it is irrelevant to speed or length of overall aging – Joshua Mar 16 '16 at 13:07

Hobbits age slower than humans

At that time Frodo was still in his tweens, as the hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.
The Lord of the Rings - Book One - Chapter 1 - A Long-expected Party

‘Which question shall I answer first?’ said Pippin. ‘My father farms the lands round Whitwell near Tuckborough in the Shire. I am nearly twenty-nine, so I pass you there; though I am but four feet, and not likely to grow any more, save sideways.’
The Lord of the Rings - Book Five - Chapter 1 - Minas Tirith

  • Is the second quote supposed to show that they stop growing later? (It does do that, just clarifying) – CHEESE Mar 10 '16 at 1:42
  • @CHEESE I included it because it was the only other reference to ageing that I could remember off the top of my head. I do think that it implies that they stop growing around 29, but I don't think it's conclusive. There might be something more in Letter #214. – ibid Mar 10 '16 at 1:53
  • @CHEESE In case you didn't recognise it, he's talking to the son of that guard from Minas Tirith (I forget his name offhand—Beregond?), so the comment about growing is in response to the kid, at age 12 or so, already being taller than him and still likely to grow taller yet. Pippin, on the other hand, is 29, so he's fully grown and will only grow in the other direction—which doesn't tell us when they stop growing, but at least that it's apparently before 29 normally. This fits with 33 as being of age, too: make humans usually stop growing upwards by age 17 or so. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 16 '16 at 7:12

I think hobbits may age a bit slower than humans in absolute terms - perhaps humans age as much as a third quicker, but actually it looks like they're pretty much the same in relative terms. the body-clock-age-times seem to match pretty closely to relative lifespans.

For coming of age, we seem to have ended up at 18-21 years old (varying a bit on culture and location, true). Hobbits hold their similar milestone at 30 to 33. If my math is right, that would be about half again as much (or a two to three ratio).

Hobbit's 'tweens' sounds similar to the kind of reckless and irresponsible period that people expect mid to late teens - I suspect the name is not a coincidence, but the behavior patterns match, as well. It covers the same relative span (just before legal coming of age) and covers the end of a person's physical growth just as in humans, so I suspect that biological maturity runs on a roughly similar pattern accounting for the longer lifespan. Roughly 8 years of 'teen' in humans and 12 of 'tween' in hobbits gives that two-to-three ratio again.

There's obviously some wiggle room for culture in determining something like coming of age - as people live better lives, kids don't need to mature and take responsibilities on so quickly. The information about the tweens, in hobbits, makes an especially good comparison point because it overlaps the psychological (age when kids are reckless) with the physical (age when kids stop growing) and makes it clear these are equivalent body-ages for humans and hobbits, not just the age of responsibility creeping upward when people come to expect more time.

This would make Bilbo and Frodo, both adventuring at 50, equivalent to a human 32, and Bilbo at 111 taking his last adventure at about 70 - which can work, I think.

However, hobbits actually seem not to live quite as long (proportionally) as humans. if we assume a maximum at about a hundred, Bullroarer Gerontious Took's 130 (as an upper limit) gives about a third more life for hobbits, not a half again as much. It might simply be that the possible life span has overtaken the maximum from tolkien's time (a maximum in the 90s for humans would fit the pattern, and given the average was 65 I think, 90 might have been a reasonable maximum then. Or hobbits reach 150, with advances in medicine).

Given the oldest human reached 122, it seems like humans might be catching up with hobbits...

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    Naming correction: Bandobras Took (Bullroarer) only lived to be 102; Gerontius Took (The Old Took) is the one who reached 130. The Bullroarer was the tallest, not the oldest, hobbit (although it's left unclear if Pippin and/or Merry ever exceeded his height). – chepner Mar 14 '16 at 16:27
  • @chepner - Thanks for letting me know I grabbed the wrong name. It's fixed, now. – Megha Mar 16 '16 at 6:39

Hobbits mature (pass through childhood, from birth to sexual maturity) much more slowly than humans1 do. They age (pass through adulthood, from sexual maturity to death) significantly more slowly than humans do, but not at such a slow rate as their childhood might suggest.

Others have also noted the quote

At that time Frodo was still in his tweens, as the hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.

(Lord of the Rings, Book I, Chapter 1, "An Unexpected Party"; emphasis added)

This appears to indicate that childhood ends, and presumably puberty begins, at around age 20. The equivalent age in humans in Western Europe at the time of Tolkien was about 12 to 14 years, so that childhood for hobbits was about 50–60% longer than for humans.

This period of the tweens between (apparent) biological maturity and legal maturity was about thirteen years, or perhaps two-thirds the overall length of childhood. This corresponds well with the figure for humans, who reached legal maturity at age 21, roughly eight or nine years after the end of a childhood of about thirteen years.

Based on the genealogy tables of Appendix C of The Lord of the Rings, and focusing in particular on the (relatively few) entries for hobbit women for which we have a birth date, it appears that hobbit women seem to have usually had their first child within a few years of their legal coming of age (at which, presumably, they gained the right to marry). Note that some hobbit women delayed their first child until their early or even their late forties. Hobbits seem to have had children at rather regular intervals of three to five years, and there are instances in the appendix of women having children at regular intervals even into their early sixties, suggesting that menopause probably occurred well after this point.

Finally, we see from Appendix C that hobbits typically died in their mid-nineties or so, and we're told in the Prologue that they lived to a hundred "as often as not".

Thus it appears that

  • Hobbits reach sexual maturity after about 20 years.
  • The women maintain their fertility for, apparently, 40 years (perhaps more) after this point.
  • Death occurs about 70 to 80 years after maturation.

Compare this to humans (see footnote):

  • Humans reach sexual maturity after about 12 to 14 years.
  • The women maintain their fertility for about 30 to 35 years after this point.
  • Death occurs at age 70 or so, about 55 to 60 years after maturation.

Based on this analysis, it looks as if biological childhood lasts about 50% longer in hobbits than in humans, the period of potential childbearing about 20–30% longer, and adulthood overall about 25% longer or so.

Thus, hobbits do age (biologically) significantly more slowly than humans do, though this slowness is largely focused in childhood.

1I am aware that Tolkien seemed to believe that hobbits were (in perhaps unduly scientific terms) something like a subspecies of humans; for the purposes of this answer, when I use the word human I shall mean something like "ordinary, non-hobbit human"; in particular I shall be referring to typical historical Western European humans of around the turn of the twentieth century, corresponding more or less to the time and place Tolkien appears to have had in mind for his hobbits.

  • "Childhood" is a very vague term; I do not think you can safely assume that it means "pre-pubescence." Even in modern societies, there are some people who would use "childhood" in a loose sense to refer to the entire time period below the age of majority (up to 18, in the United States, which is only two years before people enter their twenties). It's true that we know hobbits only come of age later, but the texts don't seem to say what exactly marks the end of childhood and the start of one's "tweens" in their culture (or if it's just a more-or-less arbitrary age). – wyvern Jun 10 '16 at 6:07
  • @sumelic that's a good point; but I think it's a reasonable first estimate. It'd be interesting to investigate (perhaps from his letters or a similar source) how Tolkien himself tended to use the word. – Matt Gutting Jun 10 '16 at 10:20

Bilbo was "eleventy-one" at the beginning of Fellowship. That is 111. He went on his adventures in his 50's/60's. Bullroarer Took lived to 130.

No, you did not ask about life-span, but there is a very surprising point to make.

Power laws. Yes, it is math. Power laws. One example is Kleiber's Law - which gives that though a cat is 100x the mass of the mouse, the metabolism is only about 32 times larger. 100^(3/4) = 31.6. Many things follow these rules. Consider time 9:00-9:17 of this video: link. Typically the larger the organism is, the longer it lives. Supporting graphs, though focused on heartbeats here: link.

The mass of the hobbit, a healthy one and not a morbidly obese one, is likely on the order of 50 lb. The mass of a healthy adult human is about 180 lb, or about 3.6x more massive.

A poor mans power-law fit to the weight vs. max lifespan for hominids excluding the gorilla gives an equation of the form "lifespan = 1.6281*weight^0.7154". Plugging the 50 lb Hobbit into this gives an expect lifespan of about 26 years.

This leads to the conclusion that Hobbits live about 4.9x longer per weight than humans do.

They don't just live long, they live amazingly long.

To get a big sense of biological cadence, look at puberty. It indicates gestative cadence. That in turn drives menopause.

"Coming of age" in every culture means something like "acceptable reproductive age". For hobbits this happens between 30 and 33 years. In humans this happens at around 15 years. This suggests that, at this point in the lifespan, the hobbit ages about 2x slower than the human.

If they were human physiology, this would be impressive. Menopause is thought to occur so that the much younger children of a parent, and that parents grandchildren do not compete for resources. Even in mideval times, the lifespan was several full reproductive cycles, so that parents gave daughters and sons in marriage, and children knew their grandparents. If the lifespan was 25 years - due to mass - then the onset of reproduction should occur somewhere around a quarter of that, or about 6 years. The ratio between that and actual, 33/6 is 5.5x.

This is substantially higher than the max lifespan.

It suggests that the slowest part of the "slow aging" happens earlier, and that towards the end the aging process accelerates.

(At some point I may clean this up or add to it.)

Human coming of age (biological) across cultures:

  • Latin America: 15, (Quinceañera) - it was about marriage
  • Navajo: 4th night after first period (Kinaalda)
  • Islam: when the boy is 15
  • Shinto: Genpuku at 14
  • North America: Sweet 16
  • Cambodia: Pheng Kom Lost or Pheng Kro Mom at 14
  • Aztec: Age 17. (link)
  • Aborigine: Walkabout (between age 12-13

It varies, but the oldest civilizations, the ones dominated by biology, tend to be early teens.

  • Hobbits are not from earth. They are a totlaly different race and culture – CHEESE Mar 10 '16 at 2:34
  • Pangea. It maps up. They might be from earth. There is also the implication by Tolkien that Hobbits were growing more and more human-like. It doesn't matter that we can appeal to ignorance - the best physiology references we have for them is hominid. They meet the criteria of being human-like likely much better than our current terrestrial pseudo-cousins the chips. – EngrStudent Mar 10 '16 at 2:58
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    we do not... 'come of age' at 12. An age of 18 or 21, depending on location, is more comparable for coming of age - or the age of puberty (which I don't think is specified in the books) in hobbits would have to be compared to humans, else it's apples and oranges. and I'm coming up with a difference of about a third faster, not nearly three times. I'm not sure about these 'power laws' you're talking about (do size variations like dwarfism work for size or species? and why are gorillas excluded?) but I think you might need to double-check the assumptions you're basing your math on. – Megha Mar 13 '16 at 6:21
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    @EngrStudent - Sure, there's a lot of wiggle room for culture... but "puberty" and "coming of age" are different terms because they are very different things, happening at different ages. Is a Hobbit at 33 like a 12 year old adult from historic cultures, or a 21 year old from ours? Hobbit coming of age should map to human coming of age, or puberty compares to puberty - mixing the measurements is like trying to argue someone at 12 years old would be as tall in one culture as they would be at 20 years old in another because cultural coming of age shifted. Apples and oranges. – Megha Mar 13 '16 at 14:42
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    «Typically the larger the organism is, the longer it lives.» — Counter-example: dogs. In general, the larger a breed of dog is, the shorter its life expectancy is. «"Coming of age" in every culture means "reproductive age"» — Quite simply completely and utterly false. A great number of cultures, past and present, consider coming of age in men to be the point at which they are skilled enough hunters (or cultural equivalent) to be able to support a family, which is several years later than their reproductive age. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 16 '16 at 7:17

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