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What does the 2011 Census tell us about the "oldest old" living in England & Wales?

In August 2013 the Office for National Statistics published a short story focusing on usual residents of England & Wales aged 65 or over: What does the 2011 Census tell us about older people?. This report continues this theme by looking at characteristics of the “oldest old” living in England & Wales, that is those who were aged 85 years or older on Census Day 2011 (who were born before April 1926). Most data published about older people come from household surveys, which exclude people living in institutions2 The 2011 Census gives us a unique opportunity to look at the current demographic characteristics of all of those aged 85 or over. This includes those living in communal establishments, a type of residency which includes retirement and nursing homes, but one which is often not covered by household surveys.

Recent gains in life expectancy mean that more people are living to the age of 85 and beyond. In the future more of the population, who are now just entering old age, will live to be 85 or older; 45% of men aged 65 will live to be 85, with the comparable figure for women being 58%, if mortality rates continue at current levels. Between 1980-1982 and 2010-2012 life expectancy at age 85 increased by 1.5 years for both sexes to 5.8 years for men and 6.8 years for women.

The oldest old are among the most vulnerable in our society, but are also among the most resilient. For some, but by no means all, their advancing years affects their physical and mental health, increases their level of dependency on others and the amount of support that they require from family, private and public institutions. The US Census Bureau noted that, “A nation’s oldest-old population consumes resources disproportionately to its overall population size”

This report compares the 85 and over population with other age groups. Grouped together by their age, the “oldest old” have many characteristics in common, especially when compared with those aged under 65 and to those aged 65 to 74 and 75 to 84. However they are also a diverse group, for example in the variations in perceived general health and the amount of unpaid care they both receive and provide. For other characteristics such as religion and ethnicity, there is now more diversity amongst the “oldest old” than 10 years ago at the 2001 Census.

This report highlights these similarities and differences at a national level and extends our knowledge of those aged 85 and over who were usually resident in England & Wales in 2011.