Older people are much less likely to be killed; 10 per million in 1997 for those over 70 years old, compared with 28 per million in 1979.
Experts believe that growing unrest among young men, who find themselves out of work with little money, and the growing availability of guns and knives, have led to the rise in the murder rate in the age group.
The report on trends in homicide, published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, found that methods of killing have changed over the 20-year period. Cleo Rooney, author of the report, said: "Stabbing and shooting have both increased, but shooting still accounts for only 10 per cent of recorded homicides.
"Women are more likely to be strangled or asphyxiated, while young men are more likely to be stabbed or shot."
In 1979, 170 people were killed with sharp instruments, compared with 210 in 1997, and 35 were shot dead in 1979 compared with 60 in 1997.
Homicide is a rare cause of death in England and Wales, accounting for one in 800 deaths from injury or poisoning, but is much higher in men than women. The highest risk of being killed is for children under five years old, who tend to die from head injuries; 44 infant boys per million are murdered, and 35 per million infant girls.
Once past infancy the rate falls rapidly, and children aged five to 14 of both sexes have the least risk of being murdered.
An international comparison found that the overall mortality rates from homicide were lower in England and Wales at 13 per million compared with the US, 88 per million, and Scotland, 22 per million. New Zealand, Israel, Australia and Canada had higher murder rates than England and Wales, but many European nations such as France, Denmark and the Netherlands had lower rates.
"The homicide rate in the USA was six and a half times that in England and Wales, largely due to firearms, which reflects the enormous difference in the accessibility of guns between the two countries," said Ms Rooney. "Britain is higher up the international table in terms of murder rates compared with previous studies because inquest figures, where 98 per cent of the pending cases are murder, have been included," she said.
t Infant cot deaths fell by more than a quarter last year to the lowest figure yet recorded, figures from the Office for National Statistics show. Campaigners welcomed the fall in the number of babies dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, where no cause of death for a baby up to one year old can be found.
In 1998, there were 284 deaths in England and Wales compared with 393 in 1997, a fall of 28 per cent. In 1971, when records of such deaths began, there were 1,600 a year.
The figures found that 60 per cent of all sudden infant deaths occurred among boys. Cot death is more prevalent in winter, with 36 per cent more babies dying between January and March than between July and September.Reuse content