The number of centenarians in Europe

3.2 Summarizing the Centenarian Increase on the European Scale

Despite this wide range of rate of change in the increase in centenarians in European countries, centenarian data can be collated to provide a more general picture at the regional level. For fourteen European countries population estimates are available from 1946. They are, by chronological order, Belgium, Denmark, England & Wales, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Together they show a regular year on year increase in the number of male and female centenarians over the sixty-year period, from 1946 to 2006 (see Figure 12).

Figure 12: Increase in the number of centenarians (100+) in fourteen European countries since 1946, by sex
Source of data: Human Mortality Database (HMD).

The number of centenarians increased by a factor of 1.4 during the period 1946-1956, by a factor of 1.7 during the period 1956-1966 and by a factor of 1.9 during the four decades starting in 1966. In other words, since the mid 1960s, the pace of centenarian increase appears to be relatively constant in Europe. In the two decades, 1976-1986 and 1986-1996, the number of male centenarians clearly increased less than the number of female centenarians. Therefore, by the year 2006, the number of male centenarians at 1946 had only been multiplied 26 times compared to 34 times for the number of female centenarians in the year 1946 (see Table 1).

This first grouping, representing in 2006 76% of the total number of the centenarians of the 27 European countries involved in our study, demonstrates that centenarians were not exceptional people in the aftermath of World War II. There were at least 235 male and 1,098 female centenarians in the 14 countries of this group.

By 1956, seven more countries had been added to the first list, i.e. Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland and Slovakia. In 1966, Poland, the three Baltic countries and Luxemburg had been also added to the list and in 1986 Slovenia. These various additions did not significantly change the results presented above for the first list of countries.

When the twenty-seven European countries are analyzed together, the 2006 population estimates for centenarians (100 years and over) reached 57,306. The figures by gender are respectively 8,228 for the male centenarians and 49,078 for the female centenarians, corresponding to a mean sex-ratio of 6 females to one male centenarian. These population figures were almost exactly double those in 1996 where the corresponding estimates were 4,212 for the male centenarians and 24,989 for the female centenarians, with a similar mean sex-ratio of 6 females for one male centenarian.

There appears to be no sign of falling off in the European figures examined so far so that centenarian forecasts for the future should anticipate the same doubling factor in the future decade. A limitation to this approach is the fact that from 2014 onwards, the new centenarian cohorts will coincide with the small size birth cohorts of World War I. In France, for instance, the number of births fell from 750,784 births in 1913 to 597,486 in 1914, 389,354 in 1915 and to a low of 315,159 births in 1916. This number did not return to the previous level until1920 when there were 838,137 births.

Table 1: Number of centenarians (100+) in Europe since 1946 and 10-year period increase
Source of data: Human Mortality Database (HMD).

3.3 Variability on the pace of increase

The above European summary conceals the great variety of national figures in terms of absolute numbers, pace of increase, sex-ratios and significance. There were five countries with estimates exceeding 5,000 centenarians in 2006, 12,473 for France, 9,150 for Italy, 8,839 for Germany, 8,025 for England & Wales and 5,827 for Spain (see Table 2). Together these constitute 77% of the European centenarians of our study. Conversely, five countries had estimates of less than 150 centenarians in 2006, 20 for Luxemburg, 33 for Iceland, 72 for Estonia, 90 for Slovenia and 145 for Slovakia, together constituting less than 1% of the European centenarians.

As expected, the countries with the most centenarians tended to have a rapid increase during the period 1996-2006 though there were exceptions. In England & Wales, for instance, the number of centenarians increased by only a factor of 1.6 during this period. Countries having small numbers of centenarians in 2006 may have experienced a strong 10-year increase, such as Estonia or Slovakia (see Table 2). The increase factor of 3.3, observed for Slovenia between 1996 and 2006, seems a little outside the European range.

Table 2: Number of centenarians (100+) in various European countries in 2006, sex-ratio and 10-year increase since 1996
Source of data: Human Mortality Database (HMD).

When ranked by the factor of increase over the 10 years (ranking not shown) this shows that, within the factor range going from 2.4 in Italy (Slovenia excluded) to 1.2 in Iceland, all Southern European countries (Italy, Portugal and Spain) experienced an increase factor of 2.1 or more and all Northern European countries experienced an increase factor of 1.7 or less (Sweden, England & Wales, Denmark, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Norway, Lithuania and Iceland). Almost all countries between the southern and the northern parts of Europe experienced an increase factor between 2.2 and 1.8 (Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Poland and Switzerland). These results suggest a strong geographical gradient from the north to the south of Europe in the centenarian increase. Among the few countries which are exceptions (Estonia with a factor of 2.4 or Bulgaria and Luxemburg with a factor of 1.2), only the Netherlands – with an increase factor of 1.5 – have a significant number of centenarians. In terms of centenarian increase, the Netherlands looks more like the Northern countries than like its surrounding neighbours, although its increase factor of 1 for its male centenarian appears to be totally exceptional in the European context.

Table 2 also displays a range of centenarian sex-ratios for the year 2006, going from 1 male for 19 female centenarians in Luxemburg to 1 male for 0.9 female centenarians in Lithuania. If we ignore the small countries where the population size may be too small for computing sex-ratios and where the data quality is not always optimal, the sex-ratio goes from 9.6 in Scotland and 9.2 in Belgium to 3.7 in Poland and 3.5 in Hungary. It reaches 7.6 in Germany, 7.5 in England and Wales and 7.1 in France but only 5.6 in Italy and 4.1 in Spain. Although the Nordic countries display similar ratios (i.e. 5.9 in Denmark and Finland, 5.7 in Sweden, and 4.6 in Norway), we have no explanation for this geographic distribution of the centenarian sex-ratios, probably due to national features. At the European level, for the 27 countries involved in our study, the mean centenarian sex ratio reached one male for 6 female centenarians in 2006.

In order to appreciate the relative significance of these various centenarian figures, Table 3 displays the centenarian rates (CR) computed in 2006, by sex and by country. CR is the ratio of the number of people aged 100 years in a specific calendar year, to the number of people who were aged of 60 years forty calendar years earlier multiplied by 10,000. Therefore, in 2006 CR is the number of the people 100 years old for every 10,000 people who were 60 years old in 1966, forty calendar years before 2006. Both figures belong to the same birth cohort, 40 years apart; here the cohort born in 1906. The choice of the survivors at age 60 as denominator to assess the significance of the number of centenarians has several advantages discussed elsewhere (Robine and Caselli, 2005). The HMD comprise these 60 years old population estimates for the year 1966 for all the countries of our study except Slovenia which is not included in this part of the analysis (see Table 3).

Table 3: Number of centenarians (100) and centenarians rate (CR) in various European countries in 2006, by sex
Source of data: Human Mortality Database (HMD).

In addition to the CR, Table 3 also displays the number of centenarians (100 years old) in the various European countries in 2006. These figures are not the same as the ones in Table 2 as Table 2 shows the number of people 100 year old or older (100+) whereas Table 3 shows the number of people 100 year old only (100). The ratio of both series is in the region of 2. Indeed, there are about the same number of people aged 100 years (100) in Europe as people aged 101 years and over (101+).

Figure 13 illustrates the huge range in the CR in the European countries, from 96 centenarians in 2006, including both sexes, in France for 10,000 survivors at age 60 in the same birth cohort to 11 centenarians in Bulgaria for 10,000 survivors at age 60 in the same birth cohort. Figure 13 and Table 3 show all possible values between these two extremes: four countries have values below 20 (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary), four countries have higher values but below 30 (Luxemburg, Poland, Latvia and Estonia), three countries have higher values but below 40 (Finland, Austria and Germany), three countries have higher values but below 50 (Ireland, Portugal and Scotland), six countries have higher values but below 60 (Lithuania, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and England & Wales), Sweden has a higher value but below 70, Switzerland and Italy have higher values but below 80, Spain and Iceland have higher values but below 90.

The CR also varies by gender (see Figure 13), from a maximum of 157 female centenarians in France for 10,000 survivors at age 60 in the same birth cohort to a minimum of 17 female centenarians in Bulgaria and from a maximum of 47 male centenarians in Lithuania to a minimum of 5 male centenarians in the Czech Republic. However a quick examination of Figure 13 suggests that some national data are far from perfect.

At the European level, for the 26 countries involved in this part of the analysis, the CR reached 55 centenarians in 2006 for 10,000 survivors at age 60 in 1966 with 87 for 10,000 for the female centenarians and 19 for 10,000 for the male centenarians, underlying that the chance of becoming a centenarian in Europe is almost 5 times greater for a woman than for a man.

Figure 13: Centenarians Rate (CR) in 26 European countries in 2006, by sex
Source of data: Human Mortality Database (HMD).

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