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I recently found a contradiction between the life expectancies of a Hobbit. A Hobbit comes of age at around 33 years old. Comparing that with a human, we come of age at around 18. Sidetracking a little, the WHO states that the average human life expectancy is about 77.5 years, which I will round up to 78.

In that sense, by the time an average human is 18, he has lived about 23% of his/her lives. In the medieval times, this percentage would be lower (considering that humans would be 'adult' at smaller ages). Now, if we assume that Hobbits have a similar system, with them having completed 20-25% of their lives by 33 (which seems reasonable enough), we get that the average Hobbit would live up to be 132-165 years old.

Here's where the contradiction comes up: In Fellowship Of the Ring, the first chapter, The Long Expected Party, we have this line:

Bilbo was going to be elewenty-one, 111, a rather curious number, and a very respectable age for a hobbit (the Old Took himself had only reached 130);

I take that the Old Took is the oldest living Hobbit. In this sense, he lived 2 years short of the above calculated life expectancy. Bilbo had lived to only 111, and is proclaimed as being rather curious. With this statement, I think we can say with a pretty good estimation that Hobbits are more like humans with a life expectancy of around 70-80 years.

So, what is the average life expectancy of a Hobbit. A lower number with ridiculously high 'comin-of-age' standards, or a high number which no one has ever reached. Of course, I know all of this may seem ambiguous and eyebrow-raising, but is there any real source anywhere in the texts which say how long Hobbits live?

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    111 is not a curious age its a curious number. 111 is described as a respectable age and would seem to be on the high side but not unexpected. – Paulie_D Aug 30 '20 at 6:37
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    Life expectancy at birth in 1930 for men was about 60 years, and coming of age was at 21. – James K Aug 30 '20 at 15:48
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    "Coming of age" is social/legal, not biological. Not so long ago (within my lifetime), it was 21 rather than 18. In earlier times, it could have been as early as the middle teens. See for instance Baldwin IV of Jerusalem: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldwin_IV_of_Jerusalem On the other side, there are the age requirements for various offices in the US Constitution... – jamesqf Aug 30 '20 at 17:29
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    Ring-bearing, or non-Ring-bearing Hobbit? – Lexible Aug 30 '20 at 18:03
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    I do not know much about Tolkien's world, but the question assumes that the physiology of a Homo Sapiens is the same as the one of a Hobbit, and extrapolates from there. This may not at all be the case, maybe the life span between "coming of age" and dying is shorter (relatively) that for a human? – WoJ Aug 30 '20 at 18:41
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Tolkien does actually give us one explicit piece of information: in the Prologue, section 3, he mentions:

[Bilbo] was old even for Hobbits, who reached a hundred as often as not;

This tracks with other hints, such as the death of Lobelia being unsurprising since "she was after all nearly a hundred years old".

One other point is that historically coming of age would have been at 21, rather than 18, and this was probably the comparison Tolkien was aiming for.

So we can assume that Hobbits lived about half as long again as Men (or, putting it another way, Men live about two-thirds as long as Hobbits).

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    This also gives us the highest point of the bell-curve for life expectancy. Bilbo is at the extreme (but not super-extreme, evidently) end of the bell and a hundred is where 50% of Hobbits die. – Valorum Aug 30 '20 at 9:48
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    Since Hobbits are not Men, there is no reason to think that their coming-of-age time should be proportionate to those of Men. In fact, since Hobbits seem to be neotenous, the long growing-up period makes excellent sense. – Invisible Trihedron Aug 30 '20 at 13:19
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    @Valorum Life expectancy does not follow a bell curve. There is a sharp spike of mortality risk for neonates and to a lesser degree for toddlers, then folks are almost immortal for about a decade, and then the mortality risk increases. The result is that age at death, survival probability, and risk of death by age all have distributions which are not bell shaped. – Lexible Aug 30 '20 at 18:09
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    @Lexible - Not a pure curve, sure. But sufficiently much of one that knowing the modal death age (e.g. 100) and the upper bound (evidently about 140) gives us a really good number to play with. – Valorum Aug 30 '20 at 18:23
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    This answer isn't really useful in any way, since I don't know what the Middle-Earth average for a human is. – Parrotmaster Aug 31 '20 at 13:13
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No official answer exists from Tolkien, as far as I’m aware, however it’s not as long as you seem to think.

Based on the lengths of time known Hobbits had lived for and when they died, Emil Johansson from Lotrproject.org did an analysis and found the life expectancy to be around 96.8 years. Quoting be page:

When interpreting these numbers there are a few things to remember. The Hobbit lifespan of 96.8 years is most likely a very good estimation. There is a relatively large and well-documented sample size and most of them died from natural causes. The average lifespan of a Dwarf is 195 years which is a bit lower than one would expect considering that the age of oldest Dwarves exceeds 250 years.
Middle-earth in Numbers

The total data set for the Hobbit numbers includes 246 Hobbits total, 172 Male and 74 Female Hobbits.

Bar chart of life expectancy:

Bar chart showing life expectancy for various Middle-earth races: Hobbit ~100, Dwarves ~200, Men (All) ~160, Men (1st Age) ~60, Men (2nd Age) ~330, Men (3rd Age) ~150, Regular Men ~80, Númenoreans + Descendants ~240

Life length distribution, by race:

Bar chart distribution showing number of deaths at various ages for Men, Hobbits and Dwarves

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    Good figures, and this lines up well with an age of median survival of 100 (the age which Hobbits reach "as often as not"). But I do suspect some selection bias in evaluating the lifespan of named characters, since it's unlikely there will be any stories about about Hobbits that died very young. This could perhaps be somewhat balanced by the likely shortened lifespan of battle-hungry adventurers worthy of being named in written tales, however. – Nuclear Hoagie Aug 31 '20 at 19:00
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    @NuclearWang, the Hobbit numbers come from the rather extensive family trees in the appendices of LOTR. There's not much selection bias there. – Mark Aug 31 '20 at 20:07
  • @NuclearWang, the set of data points covers 246 hobbits, I don't think there is much of a selection bias. – Edlothiad Aug 31 '20 at 20:51
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    @Mark Very good, I wasn't sure if those ages were just from notable Hobbits, but a family tree should be a better sample (although we have issues if this family has particularly high/low longevity). Still, the almost complete lack of anybody dying before their 20's suggests that either childhood mortality is simply not a thing in Middle Earth, or that these statistics are incomplete. – Nuclear Hoagie Aug 31 '20 at 21:28
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    @NuclearWang When people think "Wow that guy is old!" they aren't usually including infant mortality in their estimation of what's an "average old." True, "life expectancy" strictly includes infant mortality, but given the medieval setting and the lack of infant deaths in the family tree, looking at adult life expectancy seems fine. – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 1 '20 at 15:18
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The question is flawed.

Today, the average human life span is 77.5 years according to the WHO, which no doubt includes populations with widely varying life spans.

When Tolkien wrote in the late 1930s and the 1940s life expectency for men was closer to 60 years according to the comment by James K.

Today, the legal age of majority is set at 18 in most legal jurisdictions. So today, the legal age of majority is about 0.232 of the average lifespan. When Tolkien wrote the age of majority was 21 in the UK and the USA. And Tolkien was an expert in medieval languages and literature, and thus learned a lot about medieval history.

In Medieval England, the age of majority for males was set at 21 years.

During the mediaeval era and the era of feudalism, in England the age of majority for males was 21 and for females 14 if married and 16 if single.1 The attainment of such an age was usually referred to as being "of full age". Thus wardship for males ended at the age of 21, on the obtaining by the ward of a "proof of age" writ, issued after a Proof of age inquisition had obtained evidence from a jury of witnesses. Until that time a ward could be forced to marry a person of the warder's choosing, often his own child, and the resultant progeny would inherit the property formerly subject to the wardship at their father's death, usually regulated by the marriage settlement.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_majority_(England)#:~:text=The%20age%20of%20majority%20in,cigarettes%20and%20have%20a%20tattoo.[2]

I don't know why the legal age of majority was so high in medieval and early modern England, except that managing the wardship of minors who had property was a relatively profitable business.

So Tolkien probably knew that in the Middle Ages, when the age of majority in England was set at 21, the most common age range for men to die of natural causes was probably between 50 and 60 years old, thus making the medieval age of majority about 0.35 to 0.42 of a lifetime (a lifetime for those who survived their early childhood, that is. Most people born in the Middle Ages died when they were children). So 33 years, the Hobbit age of legal majority, would be about 0.35 to 0.42 of 78.57 to 94.28 years.

Tolkien wrote that Hobbits lived to be 100 as often as not, and Edlothiad's answer links to a study which shows that the known life spans of named hobbits average 96.8 years. So if Tolkien was trying to give Hobbits the same ratio of age of majority to total lifespan as the medieval English had, his math was only slightly inaccurate. Certainly his arithmatic was a lot more accurate than if he had been trying to give Hobbits a ratio of age of majority to total lifespan equal to that of 2020 persons.

I note that in 2020 the average life expectancy is about 77.5 years, and the 10 oldest living persons on August 30, 2020, were 115 to 117 years old.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_oldest_living_people

115 is 1.483 times 77.5. The Old Took's age of 130, unassisted by the effects of The One Ring, is 1.342 times the average Hobbit life expectancy of 96.8 years, so Tolkien wasn't exaggerating when he made the Old Took exceed the Hobbit average by that much.

Also see here:

Do hobbits age at the same speed as humans or slower?

And here:

How did Gerontius Took get to be so old?

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  • Also consider that most authors would put "of age" around 25y old nowadays, because so much more is known about how brains mature than was 100y ago. – user3445853 Sep 1 '20 at 19:46
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    Do you have a source for the age of majority in the UK being set at 21 during medieval times?? I'd always heard that people used to be considered adults much younger (marrying at 16 being normal, and 14 not uncommon; and the traditional formal coming-of-age ceremonies of a few cultures being 13.) The invention of adolescence, a period between childhood and adulthood meaningfully distinct from each, was related to universal public school and the generally increased amount of stuff needed to learn to be considered an adult over time. Surely a medieval 20-year old wouldn't be called a "child". – SirTechSpec Sep 1 '20 at 19:46
  • According to Wikipedia Age of Majority (England) History During the mediaeval era and the era of feudalism, in England the age of majority for males was 21 and for females 14 if married and 16 if single.[2] The attainment of such an age was usually referred to as being "of full age". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. – M. A. Golding Sep 3 '20 at 15:37
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Coming of age depends on jurisdiction, rather than some biological fact. Historically there were countries and times when people would come of age at 24 years old, at first period, after succeeding in a ritual quest, etc. Another thing is that the "corresponding" ages of hobbits and humans don't have to be proportional. Probably the best way to determine the average life expectancy of a hobbit is to take all the hobbits whose years of birth and death Tolkien listed, and count their average lifespan. (This might be skewed if in the Shire there is such a thing as lower classes living shorter, but I'm not sure how to take it into account.)

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. This isn't a discussion forum; answers should stand on their own. You seem to outline an approach to an answer, but for this to be a proper answer you need to actually work out what this lifespan would be. – DavidW Oct 31 '20 at 3:40

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