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Our Ageing Population | The State of Ageing 2023-24

Our older population is larger and more diverse than ever. What does the data tell us about this?

older woman and her granddaughter

The State of Ageing 2023-24 is the most detailed, varied and up-to-date report about ageing in England.

You can navigate through the full report using the purple content footer at the bottom of the page. Hovering over the graphs reveals more data, and you can get more information by clicking the ‘find out more’ buttons. 

Key points

A growing older population

  • The older population in England is getting larger. In the last 40 years, the number of people aged 50 and over has increased by over 6.8 million (a 47% increase), and the number aged 65 and over has increased by over 3.5 million (a 52% increase).
  • Over 10 million people are currently aged 65 and over, making up 18% of the population.
  • The number of people aged 65-79 is predicted to increase by nearly a third (30%) to over 10 million in the next 40 years, while the number of people aged 80 and over – the fastest growing segment of the population – is set to more than double to over 6 million.
  • The older population is growing fastest in many rural and coastal areas, where the proportion of older people is already higher. In some rural and coastal local authority areas, one in three people are aged 65 and over compared with one in five across the country.
  • At the same time, the population of people aged under 20 is predicted to decrease over the next 40 years.

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Changes in the way we live

  • Changes in society also mean that the way we are living is more varied – the number of people who are divorced or have never married and the number of people living alone have both increased significantly since the 2011 Census. A quarter of all people aged 50 and over now live alone and there has been a particularly large increase for men aged 65 and over. By 2043 it is predicted that almost 4.5 million people aged 65 and over will live alone.
  • These changes, along with an increase in people ageing without children, have an impact on our access to social networks and informal care as we age, and affect the types of homes and community support we might need.

Older people have never been a homogenous group – and this is the case now more than ever. Increased diversity in later life has the potential to enrich our communities and workplaces. However, as the older population becomes more diverse, it is likely that inequality will increase too. Discrimination and structural inequality accumulate throughout people’s lives, meaning that gaps in wealth and health are greatest in later life.

 

 

What needs to happen

  • Give older people an independent champion: We need a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England to give a voice to the many older people who are currently marginalised, so that their diverse experiences and the issues that matter to them are represented in policymaking. Once appointed, a Commissioner should work with the government to develop an ageing society strategy.
  • Deliver an ageing society strategy: The UK government should produce a plan to balance the current needs of older people with the long-term implications of our ageing population. This must have a laser-like focus on the poorest and most vulnerable older people, be grounded in the data and insights of different communities’ experiences of old age, and set out a clear plan to level up the dramatic inequality in the way we experience later life.
  • Tackle growing ethnic inequalities: To support the ageing population plan, we also need the government to develop a new race equality strategy that sets out how ethnic inequalities will be tackled across the life course, to prevent them widening in later life.
  • Close the ethnicity data gap and develop data that improves our understanding of racism throughout the life course: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) should make ethnicity data reporting mandatory in all official and statutory statistics and data monitoring. Surveys must include questions on ethnicity, identity and key determinants, such as experiences of racism and racial discrimination. Policymakers need to be planning for a more ethnically diverse older population, but don’t have the data to do this currently. We need sample boosts in surveys now that reflect the changed future population, to enable policymakers to plan for future needs.
  • Make the experiences of individual communities more visible by referring to specific ethnic groups rather than broad categories: To be accurate and more precisely reflect the experiences of minority ethnic groups, specific categories (e.g. Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian people) should be used when collating and analysing data instead of broad groups (e.g. South Asian). The use of even broader categories such as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) should be discontinued when more accurate categories are made possible through better data collection.
  • Improve research participation among people from minority ethnic communities: Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) should invest in research to better understand how to reach and involve people from different Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in national research, otherwise participation will remain low.

A more diverse older population

  • Census data provides new insight into the increasing diversity of the older population. The number of people aged 60 and over with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds has increased by 80% (to over 1 million) since the 2011 Census.
  • This number is set to increase significantly in the coming 10 to 20 years, given the much greater ethnic diversity we see currently among people in their 40s and 50s. In England there are almost 1.6 million people with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in their 40s compared to only 0.6 million in their 60s.
  • Similarly, the number of older LGBT+ people will increase significantly in the next few years, based on the number of LGBT+ people currently in their 40s and 50s, and will continue to increase into the future.
  • As it’s the oldest part of the population that is growing fastest – those aged 80 and over – and with the prevalence of disability increasing with age, the number and proportion of people of pension age who are disabled is predicted to increase in the future too.
  • 2.8 million people aged 50 and over are unpaid carers, with women in their 50s most likely to be providing unpaid care. Older people who already face disadvantage because of where they live or disability are more likely to be carers, and older women from minority ethnic communities that report the worst health are particularly likely to provide high levels of unpaid care.

A growing older population

The number of people in England aged 50 and over has increased by almost 7 million in 40 years –four in ten of us are now aged 50 and over

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This chart shows that:

  • There are currently over 21 million people aged 50 and over in England. This represents 38% of the population, up from 32% in 1981 – an increase of 6.8 million people (47%).
  • Over 10 million people – almost one in five (18%) of us – are aged 65 and over. This is an increase of over 3.5 million (or 52%) since 1981.
  • Almost 5 million of us are aged 75 and over – up by 2.2 million (or 84%) since 1981.
  • And the number of people aged 85 and over has increased by 0.9 million to almost 1.4 million in 40 years – an increase of 186%. This means there are almost three times as many people aged 85 and over as 40 years ago.

We also know that:

There are more than 13,000 people aged 100 and over alive today in England: more than three times the number in 1981. These centenarians have outlived their life expectancy at birth by an average of 32 years for women and 39 years for men.

More of us are reaching older ages – with the number of people aged 80 and over due to more than double in 40 years’ time

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This chart shows that:

  • The population of people aged under 20 is predicted to decrease by almost 6% over the next 40 years (from 14 to 13 million).
  • After an initial increase up to the year 2043, the number of people aged 20-34 will drop back to its current number (11 million) by 2063.
  • The population of people aged 35-49 and 50-64 is predicted to increase slightly (by less than 7%) up to both 2043 and 2063.
  • In contrast, by 2063, the population of people aged 65-79 will have increased by almost 30% (from 8 million to 10.3 million) and that of people aged 80 and over more than doubled, from 3 million to 6.3 million).

This means that:

  • The changes in the age structure that we have seen over the last 40 years are set to continue over the next 40 years.
  • With such a rapidly growing number of older people, there needs to be concerted action to tackle ageism and greater recognition of the value of older people and investment in ways to help people age well.

Rural and coastal areas are experiencing the fastest growth in the number of older people

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The charts show that:

  • Around one in five (18%) of people in England are aged 65 and over, but this population is not spread evenly across the country.
  • The proportion of older people tends to be higher in many rural and coastal areas, and lower in many cities especially Greater London.
  • The local authority of North Norfolk has the highest percentage of people aged 65 and over, at 34%, followed by Rother on the south coast at 32%.
  • Tower Hamlets, at 5.6%, has the lowest percentage of people aged 65 and over, and nine of the ten local authorities with the lowest percentages are in the London region.
  • Between 2011 and 2021, the biggest increases in the percentage of the population aged 65 and over tended to be in local authorities which already had the highest proportion of people aged 65 and over.
  • Richmondshire saw the largest increase in the population of people aged 65 and over (5.9 percentage point increase) followed by Hambleton (adjoining Richmondshire) and the Derbyshire Dales, both with a 5.7 percentage point increase.
  • This means older populations are becoming more concentrated in certain rural and coastal areas.
  • Nine local authorities saw a fall in the proportion of their population aged 65 and over: the largest fall – of 1.7 percentage points – was in Barking and Dagenham.

This means that:

  • Changes in the population age structures, both locally and nationally, will impact on the economy and services, and require policymakers to plan ahead to ensure that the needs of people as they age are supported in local communities.

There is increased imperative for local areas to join the growing movement of age-friendly communities. These enable people to create places where people can age well, stay living in their homes, and contribute to their local communities for as long as possible.

A more diverse older population

The number of people aged 60 and over with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds has increased by 80% in ten years

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These charts show that:

 

  • In the 2021 Census, 1.1 million people aged 60 and over and 440,000 people aged 70 and over identified as having a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background (excluding White minorities).
  • This compares to 590,000 people aged 60 and over and 280,000 people aged 70 and over recorded in the 2011 Census.
  • The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population aged 60 and over has increased by 80% in ten years.
  • The increase in the number of over people aged 70 and over between 2011 and 2021 is almost entirely due to an increase in the White population. However, the increase in the number of people in their 60s is almost entirely due to increases in the population of Asian, Black and Other ethnic groups. One-third of the increase in people in their 50s is due to increases in the population of Asian, Black and Other ethnic groups.

Our Technical Report explains our use of ethnicity categories and terms.

We also know that:

  • Inequalities between ethnic groups in many of the measures that make for a good later life, such as good health and financial security, widen as people age due to structural inequalities including racism.
  • These inequalities are stark. For example, the health of some minority ethnic groups in the UK is equivalent to that of White people at least 20 years older than them.
  • As the number of people with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds increases in the older population, it is likely there will be more older people living in poverty and with poor health, and a risk that inequality also increases.
  • It is essential that ethnic inequalities are addressed as early as possible in people’s lives to prevent gaps in health and wealth widening as people age. This means tackling structural racism alongside ageism to ensure that older people of all ethnicities can live good later lives.

Most minority ethnic groups are currently relatively young

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This chart shows that:

  • Most ethnic minority groups have young age profiles. Indeed, half of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population is aged 29 or younger.
  • The youngest group is the Mixed group, half of whom are aged 19 or younger. The oldest is the White Irish group, whose median age is between 50 and 59. The only other ethnic groups with higher percentages of people aged 50 and over than average are White British people, and Black Caribbean people.
  • The more detailed breakdown facilitated by the Census 2021 ethnic group categories highlights important differences hidden within the broader categories used in the previous charts: for example, between the relatively older Black Caribbean and younger Black African populations.

Diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity among older people is set to increase: over four times as many people aged 45-64 identify as LGB+ and more than twice as many identify as trans as those aged 65 and over

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This chart shows that:

  • Data on sexual orientation and gender identity, collected in the Census for the first time in 2021, found that in England only 65,000 people aged 65 and over identified as being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or having another minority sexual orientation (i.e. LGB+).
  • However, there are more than four times as many LGB+ people aged 45-64 (294,000). So over the next two decades, as these people age, diversity in sexual orientation among people aged 65 and over is set to increase. And this increase is set to continue further as the 430,000 LGB+ people aged 25-34 reach older age.
  • The numbers of older people identifying as trans (i.e. with a gender identity different to sex at birth) is smaller, with 24,500 people aged 65 or over and 60,000 aged 45-64. As with sexual orientation, diversity in gender identity will also increase in the older population as younger trans people age.

We also know that:

  • This increased diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity is important for many reasons. Older LGBT+ people experience health inequalities and unequal access to appropriate health and social care. Exposure to discrimination, both historically and more particularly for older trans people in the current hostile climate, can have a lasting negative impact on health and wellbeing, and affect housing and employment options. Many are at greater risk of financial insecurity in later life. Older LGBT+ people are more likely to live alone, be estranged from biological families, and experience social isolation, but also have diverse forms of social and care networks that may provide support in ageing.
  • Questions on sexual orientation and gender identity are sensitive and were not compulsory in the Census.  Around 8% of people aged 55 and over did not answer questions about sexual orientation, and 6% did not answer questions about their gender identity. These figures are broadly similar to those for younger ages. Therefore, it is possible that the percentages of LGB+ and trans people in the population are somewhat higher than shown here.
  • The inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Census 2021 for the first time represents progress in providing the data needed to plan for the growing population of older LGBT+ people. However, sexual orientation and gender identity reporting is needed in more official statistics, alongside more research into the needs of LGBT+ people as they age.

By the age of 70-74, one in three women and a quarter of men are disabled

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This chart shows that:

  • The percentage of both men and women who have an ongoing health problem or impairment that limits day-to-day activities (whether a lot or a little – the Equality Act definition of disability) increases with age.
  • In the 70-74 age group, almost 30% of women, and over quarter of men, are disabled.
  • The percentages of both men and women whose lives are limited a lot by disability almost doubles between the age ranges of 70-74 and 80-84.
  • More than half of people are disabled by the time they are 85-89.

 

We also know that:

Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black Caribbean people experience the highest rates of disability in later life

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This chart shows that:

  • The highest rates of disability in people aged 50 and over are seen in people from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds. Three in ten Bangladeshi people and a quarter of Pakistani people aged 50-64 are disabled, compared to 20% of the total population. And half of Bangladeshi people and more than four in ten Pakistani people aged 65 and over are disabled, compared to a third of the total population.
  • The gap between the disability rates seen in these minority ethnic communities and the whole population increases with age. Additionally, while the percentage of Black Caribbean people aged 50-64 who are disabled is close to the overall average for this age group (around 20%), there is a gap of five percentage points among people aged 65 and over (40% vs 35%).
  • The relatively low prevalence of disability among some ethnic groups, notably Chinese and Black African people, means the figures for people with BAME backgrounds – when grouped together – is similar to that of the population as a whole. In fact, the prevalence of disability among people aged 16-64 from BAME backgrounds is lower than the population average. This provides an example of why it is important to have data available at the level of individual ethnic groups.

We also know that:

  • If we look at a greater number of ethnic categories in the Census data (rather than combining some as done here – see Technical report for details), we see that at all ages, White Gypsies and Irish Travellers have the highest percentage of people in their community who are disabled: 48% of those aged 50-64 are disabled and 52% of those aged 65 and over. Thus 50-64 year olds from this community have rates of disability that are 27 percentage points higher than the population average.
  • Overall, these figures reflect the health inequalities that many ethnic communities face, linked to socioeconomic inequality and racism.
  • With the size of the older Bangladeshi and Pakistani population projected to grow significantly in the next ten years, it is likely that rates of disability among these communities will increase unless health inequalities are addressed.
  • Inequalities in disability rates correspond to ethnic inequalities in health.

Households, families and caring

Almost 5 million people aged 50 and over live alone

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This chart shows that:

  • In 2011 there were 4.3 million people aged 50 and over living alone. By 2021 this had increased to almost 5 million people – almost a quarter (23%) of this age group.
  • The largest increase over this period (29%) was among men aged 65 and over.
  • The gap between the numbers of men and women living alone has decreased. Among people aged 65 and over, in 2011 there were 2.3 times more women than men living alone. By 2021, this ratio had dropped to 1.9.

We also know that:

  • By 2043, it is predicted that almost 4.5 million people aged 65 and over will live alone – an increase of 48% from 2018. Within this age group the highest percentage increase (83% since 2018) is anticipated among those aged 85 and over.
  • Living alone can increase a person’s risk of social isolation and loneliness. And it can also make it more difficult to access help when needed, whether caring needs or in the case of a medical emergency.
  • Living alone is significantly associated with a higher probability of using emergency department and GP services. It is essential that research seeks to understand why older people who live alone are more likely to use health services, and that measures are put in place to address these reasons.

More than half of bisexual and gay men aged 65 and over live alone

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This chart shows that:

  • LGB+ men and women aged 50-64 are more likely to live alone than their heterosexual peers. At this age, at least twice as many bisexual men and women live alone as heterosexual men and women (46% compared to 17% for men and 31% compared to 15% for women).
  • Heterosexual women aged 65 and over are more likely to live alone than heterosexual men of the same age (37% compared to 22%).
  • However, at 65 and over, both bisexual and gay men (at 56% and 51%) are more likely than bisexual women (48%) and lesbians (36%) to live alone.

We also know that:

  • LGB+ men and women aged 50-64 are less likely to report good health than heterosexual men and women aged 50-64.
  • The fact that the pattern is different by sexual orientation shows how important it is to analyse data by multiple demographic characteristics, to meet the differing needs of people in minority populations as they age. However, unlike for other Census variables, sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be combined with other variables to create a custom dataset due to concerns about data disclosure for small populations. Data requested by Centre for Ageing Better on older people and general health, hours of care provided, tenure type and household size by sexual orientation, age and sex is now available on the ONS website.

Increasing numbers of older people have never been married, and/or are ageing without children

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This chart shows that:

  • A higher proportion of men than women have never been married or in a civil partnership.
  • The likelihood of never having been married or in a civil partnership decreases with age (to 4% of women aged 75-84 and 5% of men aged 80 and over).
  • The percentage of women in their 50s and 60s who have never married has increased significantly in the past ten years. For example, 15% of women (and 20% of men) aged 55-59 had never been married or in a civil partnership in 2021 compared to 8% of women (and 12% of men) in this age group in 2011.

We also know that:

  • The number of people aged 50 and over who have never been married or in a civil partnership has increased by more than a million over the last decade, from 1.5 million in 2011 to 2.6 million in 2021.
  • Differences between age groups, and over time, reflect wider changes in society. For example, women born in the mid 1960s baby boom, now in their late 50s, are twice as likely not to have had children as women born in the post-World War 2 baby boom who are now in their mid-70s.
  • This has implications for the future provision of informal care by family members. More than three in ten people aged 85 and over receive informal care from their children, and people who are ageing without children are more likely to go into residential care and at earlier ages than those with children.
  • Data is not routinely collected on childlessness among men, nor on the recipients of unpaid care. This makes it difficult to fully analyse both the number of people ageing without children and the relationships between people who are carers and those they care for.
  • Disabled people and LGBT+ people are especially likely to be ageing without children.
  • Older people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are more likely to have had children than older people from White backgrounds, and correspondingly people aged 65 and over with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are almost twice as likely to receive help with daily living from their children than people with White backgrounds.

2.8 million people aged 50 and over are unpaid carers, and 55-64 is the peak age for providing unpaid care

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This chart shows that:

  • 1.6 million women and 1.2 million men aged 50 and over are unpaid carers. This includes looking after, helping or supporting someone because they have long-term physical or mental health conditions or illnesses, or problems related to old age.
  • Older people of working age (50-64) provide the most care: a total of 1.7 million people in this age group – over a million women and 660,000 men – provide unpaid care.
  • Among carers in this age group, a majority care for 19 hours or fewer per week. At the same time, more than 400,000 provide care for 50 hours or more per week, meaning they spend the majority of their week on caring.
  • A substantial number of people past retirement age are full-time carers: more than a quarter of a million 65-74 year olds and 194,000 people aged 75-84 provide care for 50 or more hours per week.
  • And caring continues into much later life: 62,000 people aged 85 and over (36,000 men and 26,000 women) provide 50 or more hours of care per week, usually for their partner.

People are most likely to provide unpaid care from their 50s to their mid-60s

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This chart shows that:

  • People are most likely to provide unpaid care from their 50s to their mid-60s.
  • The peak age for women caring is 55-59. Almost 20% of all women in this age group are unpaid carers. For men, rates of caring peak at 60-64 when 13% of men are carers.
  • The percentage of people providing 50 hours or more unpaid care per week continues to increase up to the age of 75-79 (6%) for women and 85-89 for men (7%).

We also know that:

  • The percentage of older people providing 50 or more hours of care per week has stayed fairly constant, but the numbers have grown due to an increase in the older population. There are now 105,000 more people aged 50 and over providing 50 or more hours of care per week than ten years ago, and almost half of these are aged 65 and over (see Technical Report).
  • There has been an overall decline since the 2011 Census in the number of older carers – but this is largely due to a reduction in people providing the fewest hours of care (19 hours or less).
  • Analysis of 2021 Census carer data by sexual orientation shows that LGB+ people at all ages were at least as likely as their heterosexual peers to be carers, even though overall they are more likely to live alone. This perhaps suggests different patterns of caring, with LGB+ people more likely to care for friends and family outside their home.
  • People living in more disadvantaged areas are more likely to provide care at younger ages, and for more hours per week, than people from more affluent areas.

Older women from minority ethnic groups that have the poorest health are most likely to be providing 50 or more hours of unpaid care per week

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This chart shows that:

  • Analysis by ethnic group suggests that women aged 50-64 from all Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are less likely to report providing 19 hours or fewer of care than the population average for this age group (6% compared with 11%).
  • Among women aged 50-64, Bangladeshi women (9.0%) are twice as likely, and Pakistani women (7.6%) 1.5 times as likely, to provide 50 or more hours of care per week as the average (4.5%)

We also know that:

  • 11% of White Gypsy and Irish Traveller women aged 50-64 provide 50 or more hours of care per week – the highest rate of any ethnic group.
  • The minority ethnic groups that provide the most intense care (over 50 hours per week) – White Gypsies and Irish Travellers, Bangladeshi and Pakistani people – also report the highest level of poor health
  • It is likely that the low percentages of less intense care (under 19 hours per week) among some women with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds may, in part, be accounted for by different cultural understandings of caring roles, which means that people in some Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities who provide care don’t view themselves as carers.
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic carers experience high levels of anxiety about their financial situation, are less satisfied than White carers with services for carers and the people they care for, and may be more affected by service closures.
  • There’s a need for culturally sensitive services for carers, designed with both carers from minority ethnic communities and organisations with expertise in working with ethnically diverse groups.

Disabled people are more likely to provide unpaid care than non-disabled people

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This chart shows:

  • Almost one in five (18%) Disabled people aged 50-64, and more than one in ten (12%) Disabled people aged 75-84, are carers.
  • In every age group except the oldest, a greater percentage of Disabled than non-Disabled people are carers.
  • This means that Disabled people are disproportionately taking on unpaid caring roles for others.

We also know that:

  • Caring is frequently not a one-way activity: it may occur in mutually supportive relationships, with two or more family members looking after each other according to each person’s needs. It is important to consider that people who identify as carers may simultaneously be recipients of care.
  • As the number of people aged over 80 is set to more than double over the next forty years these supportive co-caring relationships are likely to increase, and services need to adapt to meet these needs.
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