‘Missing’ 90-year-olds

Apr 23, 2014 | REPORTS

A Partnership Population Patterns Series brief.

ILC-UK, supported by the specialist insurance company, Partnership Assurance Group plc, has begun to undertake a series of events to explore the relationship between our changing demography and public policy.

The second event in the series explored how much we really know about life expectancy at the highest ages.

The twentieth century saw life expectancy in the UK rise dramatically due to improvements in public health, nutrition and medicine. As a result more people are living into their 90’s than ever before. However, a recent analysis of the 2011 census for England & Wales revealed that the growth of this age group has actually been slower than predicted, with around 30,000 fewer people aged 90 and above than previously thought.

The discovery of ‘missing’ members of the oldest generations is not just a UK phenomenon. Similar patterns have been observed elsewhere, most notably in the United States where the 2010 census counted less than half the number of predicted centenarians.

This brief, which was developed out of the discussions held at the Population Patterns event, suggests that the ‘missing’ 90 year olds could have resulted from the relatively small size of the 90+ cohort leading to a magnification of errors in the Census data. The brief highlights how this uncertainty about the data has an impact on not just our understanding of older people, but on state expenditure and spending by private companies, particularly those operating in the financial services sector.
The brief goes on to provide possible solutions, developed from the event discussions, which would help to ensure the accurate collection and verification of data, including:

• The use of multiple external and private data sources alongside the Census could help to verify the ages of the oldest old and reduce errors.
• The government must continue trends of open access to data to ensure accuracy of the oldest old data.
• The government should consider validating a proportion of data collected on those aged 90+ in the Census to ensure accuracy and account for marginal errors.

The report of the second #populationpatterns seminar is available below.