From an island in Japan to a Costa Rican peninsula, “blue zones” are the places where people tend to live the longest.
England’s are all on the south coast, a new analysis of the nation’s centenarians reveals, with East Devon, Arun and the New Forest the three councils with the highest number of residents aged 100 or over.
Nine of the 10 local authorities with the highest proportion of centenarians were by the coast, including Somerset West and Taunton, Rother, North Norfolk, Dorset, Fylde and Folkestone, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed.
Christopher Snowdon, the head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said it was likely that many centenarians living by the sea had not been born in those areas but had retired there.
“While there must be some health benefits from breathing a fresh sea breeze, the most likely explanation for the greater density of old people on the coast is that they go there when they retire,” he said.
“Since not everyone can afford to do this, the elderly populations found on the coast are likely to be wealthier on average, and we know that rich people tend to live longer than poor people.
“There are also a lot of centenarians in places such Harrogate and the Cotswolds, which are landlocked but affluent.”
In East Devon, 64 people per 100,000 are 100 or over, while in Arun it is 59 people and in the New Forest 57, according to the data.
Eighteen local authorities across England and Wales had more than 100 centenarians, including Birmingham with 193, Cornwall with 177, Dorset with 176 and Bournemouth with 168. The Isles of Scilly was the only area with no centenarians.
The 2021 census counted 13,924 centenarians living in England and Wales, a 24.5 per cent increase from 2011 and the highest number on record.
“The number of people living to age 100 has increased over time as life expectancy has improved,” said the ONS researchers.
“Since 1921, the number of centenarians in the population has risen from 110 – a 127-fold increase. However, in 2021, centenarians still only represented 0.2 per cent of the total population.”
In 1921, life expectancy in England and Wales was estimated to be 56 years for men and 60 years for women, according to the ONS. A century later, this had increased to 79 and 83.
The number of centenarians has risen steadily since 1921. Three decades later there were 271, a figure that rose to 2,320 in 1971. By 1991 there were 6,619, with that number nearly doubling to 11,186 20 years later.
The ONS also found that there were 471 centenarians living in the same household as their spouse in England and Wales. Most of their spouses were under 100. However, there were 14 centenarian couples living together in a private household.
Two-fifths of centenarians (39.1 per cent) lived in communal establishments, with the majority of these (96.8 per cent) living in a care home. Two-fifths (41.6 per cent) live alone, while a further fifth (19.3 per cent) live with other people, half of these in a two-person household.
At 114, Ethel Caterham is the oldest person in the UK and the last surviving person born in the 1900s, having been born at Shipton Bellinger, Hampshire, in 1909.
Speaking from her Surrey care home in 2022, she revealed her formula for a long and happy life, telling The Telegraph: “Family is the most important thing in life, to be able to leave memories with your children and grandchildren.
“Possessions don’t matter a bit in the end. All you need is someone to look after you.”
‘You never think you’re going to reach that age’
Lauretta Boston, from London, celebrated her milestone 100th birthday in October last year.
“You never think you’re going to reach that age,” she said. “Even a few months before, I was wondering if I was going to reach 100 because there is always something that goes wrong health-wise.”
Lauretta recalled events she saw living in London, such as watching gas street lights being lit, celebrating Empire Day with little flags at school, seeing neighbours getting into debt after the Great Depression and watching the Oxford-Cambridge boat race on a television in a shop window when no one had a television at home.
“After the war there were clothes coupons, because clothing was still rationed,” she said. “I saw people wounded during the war on the street selling matches and they maybe had just one arm or a crutch under the arm and just one leg. They weren’t allowed to beg, but in actual fact people put the money on the tray but didn’t take the matches.”
Lauretta, who married at the age of 18, now lives alone. “I never get lonely,” she said. “I never seem to have enough time, because everything is a big effort and I’m so slow. It takes me time to do everything, so the days seem short. I also have my music and my family and friends.
“My sister is 94, and I have had friends who also lived a long time. Two of them lived to 90 and one to 102, but unfortunately they have passed on. That’s what happens. Friends I have made more recently don’t know me as well as friends I knew when I was young. They can be very good friends but can only really see you as you are now.”
Describing herself as “a town person”, she said fashion still played a part in her life and recalled: “People used to dress up to go into town to go down Bond Street,” she recalled. “I would add accessories to my clothes like collars and cuffs and you wouldn’t go out in the summer without your little gloves on.”