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October 16, 2015

In England and Wales, the cities with the oldest populations are all by the seaside

By City Monitor Staff

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.

In 1929, when King George V was recovering from lung surgery, his doctors suggested he move to the seaside for a bit on the grounds that sea air would help him recover. And so, the royal court upped sticks for a bit to the West Sussex Town of Bognor Regis.

This treatment worked, in so far as the king lived for another seven years. But he clearly didn’t think much of much of the place, because he moved out again about as soon as he could, and the last words he uttered before expiring in 1936 were reported to have been “Bugger Bognor”.

Anyway – the point I’m getting at here is that, for one reason or another, elderly people seem inexorably drawn to the coast. In countries with hot bits, this makes a certain kind of sense, but in Britain we don’t have a Florida: we just have a lot of faded Victorian resort towns like Frinton, Eastbourne, and Hove.

Nonetheless, the clichés about coastal towns turn out to be true. Check out this map of English and Welsh cities, colour coded by the share of their population over the age of 65. As ever, darker colours mean higher numbers. In all, according to the 2011 census, 16.4 per cent of the UK population was aged 65 of over (a figure that’s certainly risen since). So, dark green dots are older than average; pale green and yellow are younger than average. You can click on the dots for more detail.

The correlation isn’t perfect (when is anything). But you can immediately see that coastal cities tend to have older populations.

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To hammer this home, here’s the top 10. We’ve coloured the coastal towns blue, because the sea is blue.

These figures only include larger communities, of course: in many smaller towns, the share of the population that’s of pensionable age can be far higher.

According to figures release by the Office for National Statistics last year, in our old friend Bognor Regis, some 26 per cent of the population is over 65 – but that doesn’t even scrape into the top 10. The very oldest town seems to be the Suffolk resort of Southwold, where fully half of the population is over 65.

Demographics like this can put a lot of pressure on local services: old people need more healthcare and social support. ONS figures suggest that seaside resorts tend to be among Britain’s most depressed towns, too: in a 2013 ranking of the most deprived towns in England were Blackpool, Skegness and Clacton.

It’s not clear that the presence of a large retiree population was a factor in economic decline: more likely, the ONS has said, the decline of industries like tourism and fishing were to blame.

But what is clear is that more economically vibrant cities tend to have fewer retirees. Just to complete the picture, here are the 10 cities with the smallest proportion of old people:

Seven of those places are in the zone stretching from London to the west, where cities are most productive.

What’s probably happening here is that people of working age are attracted to these cities, to be near jobs. That not only reduces the share of their populations that are of retirement age – it also gives older homeowners a great chance to cash out and move somewhere with a pier.

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