Centenarians in the United Kingdom
Developed countries, including the UK, are experiencing an ageing population. In particular, the number of living centenarians in the UK has increased from around 2500 in 1981, to around 12500 in 2012 - a five-fold increase in just three decades. Furthermore, the rate is increasing. Since the year 2000, there has been a doubling of centenarians in the UK.
Numbers of centenarians are increasing mainly due to improved diet, lifestyles, and healthcare. It's often a misconception that increased lifespan results in an increase in the time spent in poor health. In reality, people are experiencing a greater amount of their life in good health. Many centenarians are in good health and live independently in their own home.
The numbers of people represented on this site continue to rise year on year. The most living supercentenarians in the UK was 19 - set in December 2013. Below is a graph of our own research showing the numbers of people living at each age above 106 at three month intervals.
Mortality increases over winter months, a phenomenon that healthcare services experiences annually. Most excess winter deaths are as a result of cerebrovascular diseases. Studies also suggest that colder room temperatures are associated with increased blood pressure. Outbreaks of respiratory infections, such as influenza, can disproportionately affect vulnerable groups such as the elderly. Therefore the factors are complex. However, the elderly are particularly vulnerable to excess winter mortality, which can be seen as 'waves' in the graph.
Winter months account for the highest numbers of deaths of centenarians aged over 106 in the UK. The months of December and January alone account for almost a quarter of all deaths across the year. Conversely, the months from April to September have relatively fewer deaths. Between 2009-2014, 137 deaths aged 106+ occurred in January - more than double the 64 that occurred in July.
Women make up the large majority of centenarians - representing 85% of centenarians in the UK in 2012. Because of increased survival rates for women, they make up an even greater 94% of all British people who have lived to 110.
Typically, the life expectancy of a centenarian is around 1-2 years, depending on age. Around 70% of centenarians celebrating their 100th birthday will reach their 101st birthday. By the age of 110, the likelihood of living another year is around 50%. At any one time, there are typically only 12-18 living supercentenarians in the UK - representing just 1 in 1000 people aged over 100 in the UK.
Per year, from the 1880s to the outbreak of the First World War, in 1914, the birth rate in England & Wales was relatively constant. Approximately 450,000 female births were registered per year. The birth cohort 1900-1904 produced 11 supercentenarians per year. Therefore, approximately 1 in 40,000 girls born in the early 1900s reached their 110th birthday.
The incidence of the two World Wars affected birth rates dramatically. By 1917-1919, birth registrations had reduced by over a quarter, to around 330,000 girls. This rebounded in 1920 after soldiers had returned from the war. After 1920, social changes led to smaller family sizes and fewer births. While centenarians have been rising year on year for decades, these changes in birth rates directly impact on how many people will reach their centenary. From 2017-2019, it is likely that numbers of centenarians will briefly fall.
The Office for National Statistics provides estimates on centenarians in the UK. For people aged 100, there were 2650 in mid-2002 - representing people born in late 1901 to early 1902. Combining this information with known numbers of supercentenarians from the same annual cohorts, it is possible to calculate approximately how many centenarians will reach their 110th birthday. Collectively, there were 11,200 centenarians recorded by the ONS as aged 100 from their mid-year surveys from 2002-2005. Using the same measure, there were in total 22 supercentenarians recorded at the end of June from 2012-2015. Therefore, from this subset of data, approximately 1 in 500 centenarians can expect to live to 110.
Life expectancies of centenarians continue to rise. At age 100, approximately two-thirds will celebrate their 101st birthday. By the age of 110 and beyond, this is close to 50%.
Centenarians arise in all areas of the UK, but they are not distributed evenly. Firstly, the UK population is much more concentrated in the South Eastern part of England, around London. Secondly, some regions are wealthier, which may increase lifespan through a healthier lifestyle, and better access to higher standards of care.
By far, the region with the most centenarians aged 106+ is the South East of England. Generally speaking, the Southern regions within the UK produce the highest number of centenarians. Urbanised regions, such as London and the West Midlands tend not to have as many compared to their population size. Regions are not all of the same population size, with South East England having 8.6 million residents, compared to North East England with 2.6 million, Wales with 3.0 million, and Northern Ireland with 1.8 million. Therefore, the below graph simply represents where the centenarians live, not necessarily where it is the healthiest.
The geographical distribution of centenarians across the UK varies widely. Not only are there socio-economic differences, but people often relocate later in their lives to live in a more tranquil environment, or to live closer to relatives. This means that certain areas of the country have larger proportions of elderly people. On the Isle of Wight 1.5% of people are aged over 90, compared to 0.6% in Greater London.
The data below is respective to the total number of people aged over 90. This takes account of external factors such as population size, and where elderly people choose to live.
Of the home nations, Wales has the highest number of centenarians aged 106+ relative to its population, whereas Northern Ireland has the lowest. The South East of England is the highest English region, much of its prominence is due to its high number of people aged over 90, which is both a factor of its larger population than other regions, and because of a higher percentage of older residents.