For a man who never formally attended university, Benjamin Gompertz achieved a level of scientific immortality even the most senior and tenured professors could only dream of today. While most academics toil in obscurity and their names eventually perish despite their frenetic publishing, Gompertz has joined a very small and distinctive group of scholars with an actual equation named after him. The equation has been admired and used by researchers in demographic studies the world over for almost two centuries. His equation might not be as famous as Albert Einstein's ubiquitous E= MC2, but is much more useful for retirement income planning—even if you are a nuclear engineer. Gompertz's claim to fame is the so-called Gompertz law of mortality, depicted above and the subject of this chapter.

Just to be clear, Benjamin Gompertz was not a college dropout who decided to tinker in his parents' garage instead of staying in school. I gather young Benjamin, as an eager teenager, would have loved nothing more than to enroll in university. He just wasn't allowed. You see, back in 1795 England there were strict race and religion-based rules on who could attend university, and he was Jewish—hence, no admission. Gompertz had to make do with an informal “street” education.

Despite these impediments, this ...

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