Big increase in centenarians

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THE POPULATION is ageing at an "explosive" rate with the number of centenarians doubling every decade, official figures showed yesterday. And women have a much greater chance of living to 100.

A report by the Office of National Statistics, says within 70 years the number of people living beyond 100 will jump from 6,000 to 95,000. By the 2080s, some will live till 123.

The reasons are rising prosperity, better sanitation, hygiene, food and medical treatment. The declining birth-rate has accentuated the number of ageing people in Britain and there is serious concern about increasing numbers of elderly dependents burdening the health service and pension schemes.

The report by Roger Thatcher, formerly Registrar-General and Director of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, reveals that woman centenarians outnumber men by more than eight to one.

"Many of the men who would have been in the centenarian cohorts would have served in the First World War when smoking was encouraged," he said. "Those who survived will have died of lung cancer before reaching 80, which will have helped widen the gap."

An improvement in health services for the over-80s in the 1940s and 1950s are also thought to helped the dramatic death rate fall for those between 80 and 89.

"Up until at least 1940 the death rate at 80 was very high. There were many diseases for which people over 80 could not be treated or it was deemed not worth treating them," said Mr Thatcher.

From 1911 until the 1940s the number of centenarians was only one or two hundred. Britain's oldest woman, who died aged 115 in 1993, said her long life was due to healthy eating. "I ate regular meals, but hardly touched fatty foods," said Charlotte Hughes on her last birthday.

Last year, the Queen sent 3,521 birthday cards and earlier this month decided to upgrade her tribute to senior citizens with more a personal birthday greeting card with a picture taken at Sandringham.

Senior citizens get a Royal card on their 100th birthday, their 105th birthday and every year after.