Over-65s outnumber under-15s for the first time in recorded history, the census has revealed, amid a record surge in the number of pensioners.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday published data on population and household estimates in England and Wales, by sex and age, as of March 2021, and found that the population has risen to record levels of almost 60 million people. The figure marks a rise of 6.3 per cent since the previous census a decade ago.
Analysis by The Telegraph has revealed that the nation’s swelling population is being fueled by an increasing number of people aged 65 and over - equating to around two million more pensioners now compared with 2011.
Between 2011 and 2021, the population of England and Wales grew from 56,075,912 to 59,597,300.
The ONS said that this marks “the largest population ever recorded through a census” and also shows how “the trend of population ageing has continued, with more people than ever before in the older age groups”.
However, while elderly care charities have hailed the results as a “celebration”, economists have warned that the ageing population is an “an economic time-bomb ticking away under the health and welfare system”.
The census also revealed that not only are there more older people, but that older people are living longer, with the number of nonagenarians breaking through the half-million mark for the first time.
The number of over-65s has also overtaken the number of younger people for the first time. In 2021, there were 11.1 million people aged over 65 and 10.4 million under 15. In 2011 the figures were 9.2 million and 9.9 million, respectively.
Furthermore, the rise in over-65s has now reached record levels. In 2011, there were 9.2 million older people (16.4 per cent of the population, but by 2021, this figure rose to 11.1 million (equivalent to 18.6 per cent).
Among the areas which saw the biggest increase in the proportion of over-65s between this census and the last include: Derbyshire Dales, from 22.3 per cent in 2011 to 28.2 per cent in 2021; Richmondshire, from 17.5 per cent to 23.3 per cent; Hambleton, from 21.6 per cent to 27.3 per cent; and Northumberland, from 21.6 per cent to 27.3 per cent.
However, it is not just the proportion of over-65s which has increased. The number of people aged 90 and over (527,900, 0.9 per cent of the population) has also increased since 2011 when it was 429,017, or 0.8 per cent.
In contrast, the census also showed that nearly two-thirds of the population in 2021 (38.2 million) was aged 15 to 64. As with the other age groups, there are more people in this age group compared with 2011 (when 37 million people were aged 15 to 64 years).
However, while the number of people aged 15 to 64 has increased since the last census - as with all other age groups - there has been a slight decrease in the proportion of the population this group makes up. In 2011 this group equated to 65.9 per cent of the population (37 million) but by 2021, this dropped to 64.1 per cent (38.2 million).
The remaining 17.4 per cent of the population (10.4 million) was aged under 15 in 2021 - a decrease from 2011 when it equated to 17.6 per cent (9.9 million people).
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, hailed the census as “a cause for celebration”, saying: “It’s easy for us to take such a trend for granted but earlier generations could only really hope that they would live beyond the traditional ‘three score and ten’.”
However, she also raised concerns about the social and financial implications of an ageing population, adding that just because people are living longer, it is not always in good health.
“It is more important than ever that we are geared up as a society to meet older people’s needs,” she said. “Sadly, at the moment, too many older people are stuck in hospitals because of the lack of care in the community, waiting on long waiting lists for surgery or diagnostics, and struggling to access their local GP.
“The pandemic pressed the fast forward button on ageing for some older people, and there’s a strong case for more government investment in our health and care services so they are better able to respond to the increased demand as a result.”
However, Chris Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs, described the census as the result of “baby boomers growing old”.
“There’s a notable bulge in the number of 70-to-79 year olds when compared to the 2011 census,” he said, which “partly explains why the NHS continues to struggle despite seemingly endless funding”.
“These demographic changes are an economic time bomb ticking away under the health and welfare system that no politician knows how to defuse.”
The ONS figures show 51.0 per cent of the population is female, and 49.0 per cent is male. This is a change from 50.8 per cent female and 49.2 per cent male in 2011.
More than 20 million households across England and Wales filled in census questionnaires in spring last year, with a record 89 per cent of responses completed online.
As well as Tuesday’s data, the ONS will publish further data relating to ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, education, language, armed forces veterans, disability, unpaid care, and religion later this year.
The results from the repopulation and household estimates from the decennial survey will guide the future planning of local and national services.
Census 2021 marks the 22nd full census in Britain, with the first taking place in 1801. The undertaking has happened every 10 years apart from during the Second World War.