Population statistics introduced

Latest update of text: July 2017. Planned article update: July 2018.

Since 2008, the total number of inhabitants in the EU-28 has been above 500 million; the only countries in the world that are more populous than the EU are China and India. Recent demographic developments show that the number of inhabitants in the EU continues to increase, albeit it at a relatively slow pace, while the structure of the population is becoming increasingly dominated by a growing share of older persons, as post-war, baby-boom generations reach retirement.

The Europe 2020 strategy identified population ageing as one of the key challenges facing the European Union (EU) in the coming years, alongside globalisation, climate change, competitiveness and macroeconomic imbalances. Population change has been high on political, economic and social agendas in recent years and demographic developments for population growth, fertility, mortality and migration are closely followed by policymakers.

Population may increase as a result of either natural population growth (more people being born each year than the number who die each year) or positive net migration (more people arriving than leaving). Historically, the fertility rate in the EU was considerably higher than it has been in recent decades and this usually resulted in natural growth being the main driver of overall changes in population. Changes in the balance between family-life, work and other activities may have resulted in some people deciding to postpone the birth of their first child or to have less or even no children. As a result, it has become commonplace to find a marked reduction in the number of births, with fertility rates in the EU Member States systematically lower than the natural replacement level (an average of 2.1 children born for each woman is generally considered to be replacement level). Improvements in healthcare and medicines, healthier lifestyles and improved health awareness have contributed towards people living longer; indeed, life expectancy within the EU is at historically high levels. Continued increases in longevity and healthy life expectancy may be expected — if current trends continue — and these could result in unprecedented demographic changes (for example, an ageing population, low birth and fertility rates, changes to family structures and migration) which are likely to be key policy areas in the coming years, given their potential impact on a wide range of issues, including: labour markets, pensions and provisions for healthcare, housing and social services, migration and asylum policy.

In recent years there has been a considerable increase in the number of persons seeking international protection, mainly resulting from conflicts and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa, but also elsewhere, particularly in Asia and Africa. The massive movement of people towards and into Europe led to a number of policy initiatives and measures. One consequence of this movement has been an increased interest in the level of integration of migrants in host societies and an increased interest in the measurement of integration.

EU actions in the fields of population, migration and asylum

Policy developments within the domain of demographic change generally fall under the direct competence of individual EU Member States and/or their regional authorities. That said, the EU has encouraged a more in-depth debate to develop an agreed social agenda which is designed, for example, to help reach the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. As such, the EU seeks to encourage the EU Member States to re-orientate their policies so as to promote growth and employment and ensure the future sustainability of public finances as a precondition for sustainable social cohesion.

An ageing population

In 2010, Eurostat and the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion released a joint publication Demography report 2010 — Older, more numerous and diverse Europeans. This highlighted a range of policies that had already been introduced to address issues surrounding the ageing population, providing opportunities that could enable older workers to remain active and productive for a longer proportion of their lives. At the end of their working lives, the elderly could also be encouraged to remain active for longer, through volunteering or other involvement in civil society. The other main theme in the report concerned the role of migration and how it might provide (at least temporary) respite from the challenges associated with population ageing. Economic migrants are predominantly relatively young and hence their arrival allows the population to be rejuvenated while at the same time increasing diversity.

The Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs released a publication The 2015 Ageing Report based on Eurostat’s EUROPOP2013 population projections. The report details the budgetary impact of an ageing population across the EU Member States for the period through to 2060 and addresses the sustainability of public finances alongside the pressures that will likely arise due to demographic change, detailing a set of age-related expenditures covering pensions, health care, long-term care, education and unemployment benefits. This information has been used to feed into a variety of policy debates, including the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Semester, the Stability and Growth Pact, or an analysis of the impact of ageing populations on the labour market. Early in 2017 Eurostat revised its population projections: they now cover the period from 2015 to 2080.

European pillar of social rights

In 2017, the European Commission adopted a Communication Establishing a European Pillar of Social Rights (COM(2017) 250 final) designed to build a more inclusive and fairer EU (the pillar is primarily conceived for euro area Member States), addressing the rapid changes taking place in society and the world of work. To do so, policy developments are supported by a Eurostat scoreboard of key indicators which may be used to screen the employment and social performances of participating EU Member States. Under the heading of public support/social protection and inclusion, there are two demographic indicators included for analysing healthcare, namely, healthy life years at age 65 and life expectancy at age 65.


The Stockholm programme provided a roadmap for EU policy developments in relation to migration and asylum during the period 2009-2014. During this time, EU Member States agreed to develop a common immigration policy to ensure that legal migration into the EU was well managed, improving migrant integration measures and enhancing cooperation with non-member countries which are the origin of most migrant arrivals. EU-wide laws were introduced to standardise admission and residence rules for the following categories of non-EU citizens wishing to come to the EU to work or study:

  • unpaid trainees, school pupils and voluntary workers;
  • students;
  • highly-qualified workers — the EU Blue Card directive (2009/50/EC);
  • researchers.

This was followed in December 2011 by the adoption of the so-called Single Permit Directive (2011/98/EU) which created a set of rights for non-EU workers legally residing in an EU Member State and was followed in 2014 by two additional Directives on the conditions of entry and residence for seasonal workers and corporate transferees.

In 2014, the European Commission set out a list of 10 key priorities, which would be the focus of its work programme for the period 2015-2019; one of these was Towards a European agenda on migration. The EU seeks to provide support and protection to people in need: it addresses both immediate and long-term challenges of managing migration flows by saving lives and providing humanitarian assistance, enabling migrants and refugees to stay closer to home and helping the development of non-member countries in order to address the root causes of irregular migration in the long term.

With a rapidly changing situation and the emergence of the migration crisis in Europe, this was further developed in May 2015, as the European Commission adopted an agenda on migration (COM(2015) 240). It highlighted that migration could be seen as both an opportunity and a challenge for the EU and looked beyond the on-going crisis to the development of structural actions designed to help EU Member States better manage all aspects of migration. As such, the agenda outlined an immediate response to the migration crisis, but also set out longer-term steps to manage migration in the EU.

  • Developing a new policy on legal migration — this is considered to be of vital importance given the future demographic challenges that the EU is facing.
  • Saving lives and securing external borders — this involves: the provision of humanitarian assistance to prevent human tragedies (for example, the EU has provided additional funding to Frontex search and rescue operations).
  • Reducing the incentives for irregular migration — this includes a focus on addressing the root causes behind irregular migration, dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks and defining actions for the better application of return policies.
  • Strengthening the EU's common asylum policy.


The EU has a Common European Asylum System to ensure an efficient, fair and humane asylum policy with a common and harmonised set of rules. In April 2016, the European Commission adopted a Communication titled Towards a reform of the Common European Asylum System and enhancing legal avenues to Europe (COM(2016) 197 final), which included plans for a more sustainable system of allocating asylum applications between EU Member States in order to rectify weaknesses that became apparent during the migrant crisis of 2015, in particular those linked to the Dublin Regulation (EU) No 604/2013. Eurostat collects data on asylum applicants, first instance and final decisions on applications, resettlement, as well as taking back or taking charge of asylum seekers (Dublin statistics).

During the summer of 2016 the EU adopted a migration partnership framework as the basis for a new approach to manage migration better. This was designed to promote EU Member States, European institutions and non-member countries working together to better manage migration flows, including:

  • short-term measures to save lives, fight traffickers, increase returns of people who do not have the right to stay in the EU, and provide support to people in need by resettling refugees;
  • longer-term measures to address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement in partner countries and to improve opportunities in countries of origin by fostering sustainable development.

The initial focus of the framework was centred on a number of priority countries identified in sub-Saharan Africa, namely, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, with proposals for partnerships in the form of tailor-made ‘compacts’ (political frameworks for cooperation pulling together different instruments and tools to develop a comprehensive partnership) designed to address the specific needs of the countries concerned. In October 2016, the EU agreed to increase cooperation by agreeing two additional compacts with Jordan and Lebanon with the goal of supporting the key role played by both countries in relation to refugees and displaced persons originating from the Syrian conflict. In February 2017, EU leaders adopted the Malta declaration which focuses on a series of measures to stem the flow of migrants and asylum-seekers from Libya to Italy.

Statistics on population, migration and asylum

Eurostat compiles, monitors and analyses a wide range of demographic data, including statistics on the number of national and regional inhabitants and information on various demographic factors which may impact on the size, the structure and the specific characteristics of the population, including:

Eurostat also collects detailed information on a range of subjects related to migration, citizenship and asylum, for example:

These statistics provide the basis for the development and monitoring of EU policymaking in a number of different areas, including: the impact of migration on labour markets, migrant integration, the development of a common asylum system, the prevention of unauthorised migration, and trafficking of human beings.

The population and housing census is a considerable undertaking carried out every 10 years by national statistical authorities according to different methods and data sources. It provides a count of the entire population and its housing stock and supplements this with information on a range of characteristics (geographic, demographic, social, economic as well as household and family characteristics). Census data therefore provides an essential source of vital statistics ranging from the lowest small-area geographical divisions to national and international levels. The richness and volume of census data provides considerable scope for policymakers and researchers alike. The latest census was conducted across EU Member States in 2011 and was based on European legislation that defined, for the first time, a harmonised set of high-quality data, based on:

The Census Hub is a modern and innovative technical solution for the transmission and dissemination of census data. It ensures free access to the wealth of 2011 EU census data that is available in the form of an easy-to-use tool that permits users to specify their own customised tabulations based on a selection of topics of interest.

Census and population data also has a wider range of uses within official statistics: for example, they may be used to calibrate survey data or in calculation of indicators (in association with other data sources) e.g. the calculation of per capita ratios.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables


Immigration (migr_immi)
Emigration (migr_emi)
Acquisition and loss of citizenship (migr_acqn)

Dedicated sections

Other information

External links