Growing numbers of British pensioners are seeking new lives across southern Europe rather than in traditional destinations such as New Zealand and Canada.
The first analysis of government data to probe the distribution of state support for senior citizens, carried out by researchers at Sheffield University, has revealed a significant shift in post-retirement emigration patterns in the last years of the 20th century.
One in 11 of those claiming pensions in the United Kingdom is living abroad. This group receives its benefits in more than 200 different countries.
Research by Tony Warnes, director of the Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing, indicates that the total could reach the million mark within a decade.
The study, published in the International Journal of Population Geography , indicates that the tradition of pensioners leaving the UK to join family in Commonwealth countries is declining.
"By the second half of the 1990s, the growth rate of UK pensioners in France, Italy and Spain exceeded that in the United States, and the totals for the former 'white Commonwealth' were falling away steeply," Dr Warnes said.
Nevertheless, nearly a quarter of the 847,000 UK pensioners abroad in 1999 - up 3.5 per cent on the previous year - were in Australia, and substantial numbers were in the US, Canada and Ireland.
There were 39,7 in Spain, with an annual rate of increase of 6.9 per cent, ,560 in Italy, rising by 7.3 per cent and 16,287 in France, up 6.8 per cent.
Dr Warnes said that the geographical distribution of pensioners was still strongly influenced by connections and family links.
Those heading for southern Europe were most likely to be looking to improve their quality of life in warmer climes.