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The number of people aged 100 or over in England and Wales hit a record high in 2021, according to official figures published on Monday, in a sign of how reduced mortality is contributing to the UK’s ageing population.
Analysis of census data by the Office for National Statistics showed there were 13,924 centenarians in 2021 — up 24.5 per cent from 2011 and a 127-fold increase from the 110 registered in 1921.
Of those, 11,288 were women and 2,636 were men, with the highest proportion based in parts of the south of England, such as East Devon, Arun and the New Forest.
The UK ranks seventh worldwide in the list of countries with the most centenarians and ninth once population size is taken into account.
In the UK, there are 31 centenarians for every 100,000 people, according to ONS analysis of UN population data. By comparison, there are 106 per 100,000 in Japan, 42 in France and 30 in Italy.
Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics, said the “extraordinary increase” in people living to 100 was “an unusually optimistic indicator” and a “success for society”, attributing it to NHS advances and stricter health policies in areas such as smoking.
But he warned that the rise would mean “higher pension costs, higher care costs and it makes it easier for governments to argue to raise the pension age”.
The statistics agency said the sharp increase in England and Wales from the 1960s, in particular, was the result of advances in healthcare and public health measures, which have helped cut mortality.
In 1921, life expectancy was 67.9 years for women and 61.2 years for men, but it now stands at 90.5 and 87.6 years respectively.
The majority of centenarians surveyed by the ONS were disabled, but one-quarter said they were in good health.
The latter included 102-year-old former Flight Lieutenant Colin Bell, who last week became the “oldest-ever participant in an abseil”, according to London’s Air Ambulance Charity, when he descended 280ft down the side of The Royal London Hospital.
Centenarians represent only 0.2 per cent of the total population of England and Wales, but 19.6 per cent of girls and 14.1 per cent of boys born in 2021 can expect to live to 100, the ONS said.
While the number of centenarians has more than doubled since 1991, separate official figures published last month showed the number of births in England and Wales had dropped to the lowest in two decades, contributing to a rapidly ageing population.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that the UK’s ageing population “will continue to drive health and social care spending, and the cost of state pensions”.
In detailed projections published this month, the independent fiscal watchdog forecast that state spending on pensions would rise from 5.1 per cent of gross domestic product now to nearly 9 per cent by 2072-73.
Over the same period, adult social care is predicted to increase 1 percentage point to 2.3 per cent of GDP, while health spending will almost double to 15 per cent.