diamond geezer

 Monday, August 19, 2013

I felt quite old this weekend.

I went to the Shuffle Festival on Friday evening to watch Trainspotting, and I think Danny Boyle and I were the only over-40s in the audience. I met a reader of the blog on Saturday, and realised with discomfort that when I left university they hadn't even been born. I went to the Hackney Wicked Festival yesterday afternoon, which was populated by hordes of bright young things and lads with beards. And I went to birthday drinks last night where the subject of children's television came up, and one of the attendees had never heard of Brian Cant. Oh I felt quite old.

If you measure things one way, I'm not old. I could live to be over a hundred, but I'm only 48, so I'm not even halfway there yet. Viewed another way, the average UK male lives to be about 78, so I'm still thirty years short. But I still have that nagging feeling that 48 is old, based on what I see around me in London. And it turns out I may be correct.

Amongst the statistics churned out by the UK census every 10 years are several tables of Neighbourhood Statistics. These can tell you almost everything you want to know about the ward, borough, county or country in which you live. You can explore here if you like. I investigated the borough of Tower Hamlets, and then selected Age by Single Year. This table tells me how many people there are at each age from zero up to 100+, not just for Tower Hamlets but for also for the whole of London and the whole of England.

The census figures are for 27th March 2011, two years ago, back when I was 46. I was intrigued to see that 46 was then the most popular age in England - there were 795338 of us, the peak of the baby boom. But the most popular age in London wasn't 46, it was 30. People move to London in their 20s and 30s, so the peak is lower than the country as a whole. And the most popular age in Tower Hamlets was even lower, it was 27. There are more than three times as many 27 year-olds in Tower Hamlets as 46 year-olds, because the population here peaks early. I'm really not imagining it, I really am quite old for the place where I live.

Let's investigate this in a bit more depth. I'm going to split the quarter-million population of Tower Hamlets up into ten equal groups, with approximately 25000 in each. What ages make up each 10% of the population? That's the ages of the youngest 10% of residents, the next 10%, and so on up to the oldest 10%. Here's a table. The figures are for 2011 but should still be pretty much true today. And as a 48 year old, I find the data a bit scary.

Tower Hamlets Age range 
 Youngest 10% 0-6
Oldest 10%58-100+

To clarify, as a 48 year old I'm in the yellowish box, in the penultimate group. That means I'm in the oldest 20% of the population, with more than 80% of local residents younger than me. Tower Hamlets is very light on pensioners, they form less than 10% of the population. But Tower Hamlets has a lot of young people. If you want to be in the youngest half of the population you have to be aged 29 or below. Hit 30 (which is the median age) and suddenly you're one of the oldies. No wonder I felt old this weekend, I'm way over the hill... for Tower Hamlets.

Here's the split for the population of London. Where are you in this one?

London Age range 
 Youngest 10% 0-6
Oldest 10%67-100+

London is also a young place to live. The average age for Londoners is only 33, and once you pass that you're in the oldest half of the population. As a 48 year-old I'm in the third group from the top this time, which puts me in the youngest 80% (or the oldest 30%, depending on how you look at it). If you lined up the entire population of London in order of age, I'd be almost three-quarters of the way along the line. And that is relatively old, which again explains why I felt somewhat outnumbered at the weekend.

Finally here's the split for the population of England. This is rather different.

England Age range 
 Youngest 10% 0-7
Oldest 10%72-100+

England, as a whole, is rather older than London. The average age for people in England is 39 (or to be more precise 39½). In England you only enter the oldest half of the population at 40, a whole ten years after the same dividing line in Tower Hamlets. And that's because England has more older people than its capital, with almost 20% of the population of pensionable age. In England I'm in the youngest 70% of the population, indeed somewhere around two-thirds, which doesn't sound quite so old at all.

And before you start thinking "it's all these immigrants having kids innit?", it's not. The youngest quarter of the population is all those under the age of 20, whether you're in Tower Hamlets, London or the whole of England. Children and teenagers are pretty evenly spread, wherever. It's only during the 20s that the real differences begin, when internal migration kicks in, hence those median ages of Tower Hamlets 29, London 33 and England 39.

As for the point at which you enter the oldest quarter of the population, this varies considerably according to where you are. In Tower Hamlets the "oldest quarter" borderline is 40, in London it's 49 and in England it's 57. The young tend to gravitate to London for jobs, from wherever, while older Londoners head in the opposite direction and escape. I just haven't left yet... or else I may be one of the stick-in-the-muds who never do.

So there you go, at 48 I'm not old by national standards, and I shall cling to that thought for a few more years. But I am quite old for where I live, and I shall have to get used to that. Maybe someone'll even offer me a seat on the tube this morning.

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