UK age 90+ population now at its largest ever: new ONS data


24 September 2020
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A birth spike after World War I is now reflected in new figures released by the ONS, showing data for men and women aged 90 and over around the UK.

This annual mid-year population estimate from the Office for National Statistics compares population by age, sex and UK country.

Key findings released today (24 September) show that:

  • There were more than 600,000 people aged 90 years and over in 2019, increasing by 3.6% compared with 2018, from 584,024 to 605,181.
  • There were just over twice as many women as men aged 90 years and over in 2019.
  • The number of people alive at almost every age from 90 years and above was higher in 2019 than in 2018, with the largest increase at age 99 years (62.2%), as a direct result of seasonal birth patterns after World War One.
  • In 2019, there were 13,330 centenarians (people aged 100 years and over); the number of people aged 100 years increased by 11% compared with 2018.
  • The number of male semi-supercentenarians (people aged 105 years and over) has more than doubled in the last decade, while the number of female semi-supercentenarians increased by around half.

Unusually large birth cohort

Rose Giddings, Centre for Ageing and Demography, Office for National Statistics, said: 'The UK population aged 90 years and over grew to its largest size in 2019. Historical improvements to male life expectancy continued to narrow the gap between men and women in this age group to its lowest level on record, with around two women to every man.

'Despite a low number of births 100 years earlier, we saw an uptick in the number of people aged 100 years and over in 2019, due to medical advances and improvements in public health during their lifetime. The birth spike after World War One has resulted in an unusually large birth cohort who are aged 99 in our latest figures. As those who survive reach 100 years of age, the number of centenarians is expected to increase sharply, however, other factors, such as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), could influence this.'

Population estimates of the very old by single year of age

The number of people alive at almost every age from 90 years and over was higher in 2019 compared with 2018. For men, there were increases at every age, and there were increases in the number of women at all ages except 97, 98 and 101 years (see below graph)

Historical causes of population growth for those aged 90 years and over

The number of people alive at each age is driven primarily by historical birth patterns.

The sharp increase in the number of births following World War One began in the second half of 1919, around nine months after the war ended. People born in the second half of 1919 were aged 90 years in mid-2010, and by mid-2019 they were aged 99 years.

In 2019, there were around 12,050 people aged 99 years - a birth cohort 62.2% larger than the one born one year earlier (above graph). The same pattern can also be seen at younger ages for this cohort going back in time (graph below).

Population estimates of the very old by UK constituent country

In 2019, Wales had the greatest proportion of both male and female centenarians in the UK with eight men aged 100 years and over per 100,000 men and 36 women aged 100 years and over per 100,000 women. 

England had the second largest proportion of centenarians in the UK, with seven males and 33 females per 100,000 population of each sex. 

Northern Ireland and Scotland had a similar proportion of male centenarians (5 per 100,000 population of males) in 2019, while Northern Ireland had a higher proportion of female centenarians than Scotland, at 29 compared with 24 per 100,000 population of females.

For more on this data, see the ONS website.

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