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Fancy living in 1911 or 2011?

he publication of initial results from the 2011 Census makes for some fascinating reading. Although the headline data that has filled newspapers and the online media is the increase in the population for England and Wales, there are a range of other less known nuggets in the results that should give us cause to pause.

If you compare 2011 to its 1911 predecessor it is striking just how much our length (and hopefully the quality) of our lives has improved. In 1911, there was a 13% chance that a baby born would die before its 12 month birthday- now that chance is down to just 0.4%. For adults in 1911 men could expect to live to the age of 49 with women living an extra 8% in time at 53. Compare that with our lot in 2011. A baby boy born now can expect that he will live to 79 with a female baby to 83 (women are now living 5% longer than their menfolk- so we are closing the gap!).

Now I reckon these are amazingly significant statistics. It means that over the course of the last 100 years men and women are living for an extra 55%-60% longer. Now of course, there are a whole range of factors in play here. Social conditions in 1911 were in a number of parts of the country appalling which impacted on peoples’ health and mortality rates. Infectious diseases such as TB, Polio, Diphtheria, Measles, Scarlet Fever and even Diarrhoea accounted for many deaths (as an illustration the number of deaths due to TB has fallen by 95% over a 100 year period), that could be linked to living conditions and without an NHS service to call upon, life expectation was low and relatively bleak. Women were also more likely to suffer complications and die during pregnancy. Whilst you were more likely to die through an infectious disease, that wasn’t true of Cancer which at the turn of the previous century had accounted for less than 5% of deaths compared to over 40% 100 years later. The reason for this is not clear   but may be linked to the fact that a number of cancers tend to present in more elderly people and the average 1911 citizen would be fortunate to get to 60 let alone their 70’s or 80’s where illnesses such as Prostrate Cancer for example is more prevalent.

Population wise, England and Wales has increased from 36 million in 1911 to 56m as measured in 2011. That is an increase of some 20 million people but remember, it is over a 100 year period so it has been increasing by just about 0.5% or 200,000 people each year- although the trend has been sharply up as the increase in the last decade (2001-2011) is the biggest every registered. As commentators have indicated, around half of the reason for this increase is due to the amount of net migration. In 1911 for example, the country was a net exporter of the population with a net number of 100, 000 people or so immigrating to the likes of Australia, Canada and the US. But that trend reversed from around the 1960’s and now there is net migration of around 250,000. The other main factor is that as a nation we are living longer,  due to a genuine revolution in improvements in sanitation, health and living conditions, and much better access to healthcare, this is despite us frankly, breeding less. In 1911 there were 3.5 children per household compare to 1.8 children in 2011 – roughly a 50% reduction.

Overall then, you would want to be living in 2011 rather than 1911- you are far more likely to live in better conditions, you are less likely to suffer through infectious diseases (and more likely to have them cured) and much more likely to live longer. That is a really positive story but there is a downside to it which is the strain on our pensions and social care to look after us living longer. That is a challenge that the next 100 years and beyond will need to take on….