NEW vs England and Wales

The land of the four score and ten and over looks a bit different from the rest of the country

My grandfather used to say that he had had his three score and ten (that’s 70 for those brought up in a decimal age) and was now quite content to die when the time came. He said this with increasing frequency and some bewilderment before his final death at the age of four score and ten in 1991. This bewilderment was understandable: there were 222,820 over 90 year olds in 1991, already over 40% up on the 1981 total. However the changes since his death have been even more dramatic, with 440,290 over 90 year olds in 2011.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently published a statistical bulletin entitled Estimates of the Very Old (including Centenarians), 2002-2011, England and Wales, which summarises how the proportions living to four score and ten and beyond have changed over the 30 years since 1981. It shows us a population living within a population: Nonagenarian (ie the over 90s) England and Wales (NEW) within the full population of England and Wales.

Imagine for a moment NEW viewed as a different country, where people are “born” as they reach 90 and we ignore (as the ONS have done in compiling these statistics) immigration and emigration.

The first thing to notice about NEW is that the age structure looks very different to that of England and Wales. We can see this by comparing the “population pyramids”, as they are known, below, with the number of people at each age shown on a graph, males to the left in blue and females to the right in red:

The numbers fall away much faster of course at the older ages, although the shape still shows the biggest falls between ages 91 and 92 reflecting the impact on birth rates at ages (in 2011) from 92 to 97 of the First World War and its immediate aftermath. There are far more women than men in NEW, although the overall ratio has reduced from 4:1 in 1981 to around 2.7:1 in 2011. By comparison, the England and Wales population is much more balanced (there are 4% more women than men). The NEW population is somewhere between the sizes of Malta’s and Cape Verde’s full population.

Your chances of living to 100 in NEW as a newly arrived 90 year old are about the same as those of a new born in England and Wales qualifying for entry into NEW one day.

The world to which NEW belongs looks very different from that which England and Wales or the UK are used to. The largest country is not China or India, but the United States. Japan, whose overall population is about a tenth that of India has an over 90 population over twice that of India’s.

Finally, the population of NEW is growing far more quickly than that of England and Wales, or indeed the UK, with a 26% increase between 2002 and 2011, almost four times the UK rate over the same period.

My grandfather only spent a few months in NEW but, by 2011, 570 people had spent over 15 years in this land. It is going to become a much more familiar place to many of us.

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