The number of people aged 90 and over increased by 26% between 2002 and 2011, according to figures published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics.
In 2011, there were an estimated 440,290 people aged 90 and over living in England and Wales, just below 1% of the total population. Of these, an estimated 11,700 were aged 100 and 570 of these were estimated to be aged 105 or over. According to the ONS figures, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of centenarians over the past 30 years - up from just 2,420 people in 1981.
Longer life expectancy for women than men means there are more women aged 90 or over than men, with a ratio of 2.7 women classed as 'very old' for every man within the same bracket in 2011. The ONS noted, however, that relatively greater improvements in male mortality than female mortality in recent years meant this gender gap was closing - down from four women for every man over 90 in 1981.
Pensions minister Steve Webb said the figures showed the importance of preparing for an ageing society, and highlighted the role that the government's pension reforms had to play as part of that.
'More people than ever before are living to very old age and a third of children born today are expected to reach 100. We need to be prepared for a society that is ageing and plan for how we want to spend our time,' he said.
'That's why we're making the biggest reforms to our pension system since before these centenarians were born, making it pay to save for your retirement.
'From 2016, the new single tier pension will make it clear what you will get from the state when you reach State Pension age, and by 2018 every workplace will have a duty to offer a workplace pension,' he added.