The origins of human ageing are to be found in the origins and evolution of senescence as a general feature in the life histories of higher animals. Ageing is an intriguing problem in evolutionary biology because a trait that limits the duration of life, including the fertile period, has a negative impact on Darwinian fitness. Current theory suggests that senescence occurs because the force of natural selection declines with age and because longevity is only acquired at some metabolic cost. In effect, organisms may trade late survival for enhanced reproductive investments in earlier life. The comparative study of ageing supports the general evolutionary theory and reveals that human senescence, while broadly similar to senescence in other mammalian species, has distinct features, such as menopause, that may derive from the interplay of biological and social evolution.