People in the EU - population projections
Data extracted in November and December 2017
No update planned for this article
Median age of the EU population expected to increase by 4.2 years between 2015 and 2080.
Population projections suggest there will be 66.1 million people aged 80 years and over in the EU by 2080.
This is one of a set of statistical articles that forms Eurostat’s flagship publication People in the EU: who are we and how do we live?; it presents a set of population projections for the European Union (EU) covering the period 2016 to 2080.
A paper edition of the publication was released in 2015. In late 2017, a decision was taken to update the online version of the publication (subject to data availability). Readers should note that while many of the statistical sources that have been used in People in the EU: who are we and how do we live? have been revised since its initial 2015 release, this was not the case for the population and housing census, as a census is only conducted once every 10 years across the majority of the EU Member States. As a result, the analyses presented often jump between the latest reference period — generally 2015 or 2016 — and historical values for 2011 that reflect the last time a census was conducted.
The size of a population changes in a dynamic fashion over time, as a function of three demographic factors: births, deaths and migratory flows, each of which shapes the population’s structure over time. The main outcome of the current low levels of fertility and mortality in the EU-28 is a progressive ageing of the population. This is an ongoing demographic process and its consequences are analysed by policymakers from social, economic and labour-related perspectives.
The latest population projections released by Eurostat, provide a main scenario and four variants for population developments from 2015 to 2080 across 29 European countries: all of the EU-28 Member States, as well as Norway. These projections were produced using data for 1 January 2015 as a starting point and therefore include any modifications made to demography statistics resulting from the 2011 population census exercise.
Eurostat’s population projections result from the application of a set of assumptions on future developments for fertility, mortality and net migration. The projections should not be considered as forecasts, as they show what would happen to the resulting population structure if the set of assumptions are held constant over the entire time horizon under consideration; in other words, the projections are ‘what-if’ scenarios that track population developments under a set of assumptions. As these projections are made over a relatively long time horizon, statements about the likely future developments for the EU’s population should be taken with caution, and interpreted as only one of a range of possible demographic developments.
This article presents a concise summary of the results from the ‘main scenario’. It is restricted to the period covering 2015 to 2080 and hence the time-series shown begin with the most recent official statistics available at the time of writing (namely, those for 2015 or 1 January 2016); for a more detailed presentation of this data, please refer to an article on Demographic changes — profile of the population.
Population projections suggest there will be a fluctuating pattern of developments during the next six decades
Eurostat’s projections indicate that the EU-28’s population will grow overall by 1.7 % between 1 January 2016 and 1 January 2080, with the number of inhabitants increasing by 8.5 million persons. The EU-28’s population is projected to peak around 2045, reaching 529 million persons, an increase of 18.8 million (or 3.7 %) compared with the situation as of 1 January 2016. The size of the EU-28’s population is then projected to progressively fall with a population of 519 million persons by the start of 2080 (see Table 1).
An ageing society
Eurostat’s main scenario projects that the pattern of population ageing within the EU-28 is likely to continue through to 2080. Ageing may be measured through an analysis of various demographic indicators, including:
- the median age;
- the proportion of the population in each of the main demographic age groups — namely, children (defined here as those aged 0-14 years), the working-age population (15-64 years) and the elderly population (65 years and over); and,
- age dependency ratios — such as the young-age dependency ratio, the old-age dependency ratio or the cumulated age dependency ratio (which combines the young-age and old-age ratios and therefore measures the ratio of dependent children and elderly persons compared with the number of working-age persons).
Median age of the EU-28 population expected to increase by 4.2 years between 2015 and 2080
The median age of the EU-28’s population is projected to increase by 4.2 years, from 42.4 years in 2015 to 46.6 years in 2080. Although the total EU-28 population is projected to increase modestly during the period 2015 to 2080, the relative and absolute sizes of the different population age groups are expected to follow contrasting developments (see Figure 2). The proportion of children is projected to decrease slightly in both relative and absolute terms from a share of 15.6 % (or 79.5 million children) at the start of 2016 to 15.2 % (or 78.9 million children) by 2080, with the share falling to a low of 14.7 % in 2040 before recovering somewhat. The share of the working-age population in the EU-28’s total population is also expected to decrease, falling from 333.0 million persons at the start of 2016 (or 65.3 % of the total) to 288.4 million persons by 2080 (55.6 %); the overall reduction in the working-age population during the next six and a half decades is therefore projected to be 44.5 million persons, with the share of the working-age population projected to fall below 60 % by 2035 and to remain below this level through to 2080. The share of the elderly in the total population of the EU-28 is projected to increase from 19.2 % (or 97.7 million elderly persons) at the start of 2016 to 29.1 % (or 151.0 million elderly persons) by 2080. As such, the share of the elderly is projected to rise by 9.9 percentage points, reflecting an additional 53.3 million elderly persons by 2080.
Population projections suggest there will be 66.1 million people aged 80 years and over in the EU-28 by 2080
Eurostat’s projections indicate there will be substantial increases in the number of very elderly persons in the EU-28 with a progressively ageing population. The share of the very old — defined here as those aged 80 years and over — in the total EU-28 population is projected to increase from 5.4 % in 2016 to 12.7 % by 2080. In absolute figures, their number is projected to more than double, rising from 27.3 million very old persons in 2016 to 66.1 million by 2080.
These changes in the EU-28’s population structure can be seen clearly in Figure 3, which provides a graphical presentation of population changes by age and by sex by superimposing two population pyramids (for 2016 and 2080). The differences between these pyramids show the projected changes in the composition of the EU-28’s population, namely, that:
- the already low number of births is projected to continue, as the base of the pyramid will remain relatively unchanged, indicating that there will be little or no natural population growth;
- the working-age population will shrink considerably between 2016 and 2080, thus further increasing the burden on those of working-age to sustain the dependent population;
- the proportion of elderly persons will grow much larger — as shown by the broadening at the top of the pyramid — reflecting the ageing of the EU’s population as a result of lower mortality rates;
- the number of centenarian women is projected to be considerably higher than the number of centenarian men.
The 2016 population pyramid may be described as a rhomboid (a parallelogram where the adjacent sides are unequal), due to the relatively high number of men and women aged 45-55, a cohort who were born in the second half of the 1960s and early 1970s. These people will, in the coming years, gradually move into retirement, while there are fewer persons of working-age in the generations that follow. Indeed, this shift in age distribution provides further confirmation of the ongoing process of population ageing, as the share of the EU-28’s working-age population declines and the proportion of elderly persons increases.
By 2080 there will be less than two persons of working-age for each elderly person
Demographic dependency ratios are based on the age structure of the population rather than their employment status. Figure 4 shows projected age dependency ratios for the EU-28, covering the period 2016 to 2080. The young-age dependency ratio is projected to increase modestly, rising by 3.5 percentage points from 23.9 % in 2016 to 27.4 % by 2080. By contrast, the EU-28 old-age dependency ratio is projected to increase at a rapid pace through to 2045 reflecting the on-going process of retirement among the baby-boomer and subsequent age cohorts. Indeed, the old-age dependency ratio is projected to increase by 23.0 percentage points from 29.3 % in 2016 to 52.3 % by 2080. As such, while there were more than three persons of working-age for every elderly person in 2016, by 2080 this ratio is expected to be less than 2 : 1.
By 2080, Germany is likely to be the third largest EU Member State in population terms, behind the United Kingdom and France
Among the individual EU Member States, the projected changes in population structures vary considerably, both in terms of when the highest level of population is reached and the scale of population increases/decreases. A closer analysis of the projections for 2080 reveals that the EU Member States with the largest populations — assuming no changes in the membership of the EU — will be the United Kingdom (82.4 million inhabitants), France (78.7 million), Germany (77.8 million), Italy (53.8 million) and Spain (51.0 million).
Figure 5 presents the projected changes to the populations of the EU Member States during the period 2016 to 2080, with an increase in the number of inhabitants foreseen for 13 Member States, as well as for Norway. Population numbers are predicted to rise by more than 35 % overall in three of these countries: Luxembourg (where the population is projected to increase by 85.1 %), Sweden (up 46.1 %) and Norway (up 37.4 %). The rapid population increase in Luxembourg is largely due to an assumption that relatively high levels of net inward migration observed during the last decade will continue over the coming years. Slightly lower increases, in the range of 25-35 %, are projected in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Belgium, while the number of inhabitants is expected to rise by 15-20 % in Denmark, Malta, Cyprus, France, the Netherlands and Austria, and by less than 10 % in Spain and Finland.
The largest reductions in population numbers by 2080 are projected in several eastern and southern EU Member States
By contrast, the number of inhabitants is projected to fall between 2016 and 2080 in 15 of the EU Member States. Among these, there will be a relatively modest decline in the total number of inhabitants living in Germany, Slovenia and the Czech Republic (where the population is expected to contract by 5-7 %). The decline in the number of inhabitants is projected to be within the range of 11-13 % in Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and Estonia, while reductions of 22-27 % are projected for Croatia, Poland, Romania and Portugal. Larger contractions — with the total number of inhabitants falling by approximately one third — are projected for Greece, Latvia and Bulgaria, while the largest reduction of all is projected in Lithuania, as its population is predicted to fall by 42.6 % between 2016 and 2080.
By 2080, all of the EU Member States will have aged compared with 2016, although the pace of change will vary considerably. These differences are reflected in the projected changes for median ages and age dependency ratios. This pattern of population ageing is already being experienced in some Member States and is projected to continue and, in some cases, develop at an even faster pace, with a growing number of persons becoming dependent on the working-age population. As a result, population ageing will likely have a considerable impact on public expenditure plans, for example, in relation to pensions, healthcare and long-term care costs.
Figure 6 shows that during the period 2016 to 2080, the median age of the EU-28 population is projected to increase by 4.0 years to reach 46.6 years. Cyprus and Poland are the only EU Member States projected to see their median ages rise by more than 10 years (increases of 15.4 years and 10.5 years respectively), while all of the remaining Member States are expected to see their median ages continue to increase. The smallest increase is projected in Spain, where the median age of the population is projected to increase by just 0.2 years from 42.8 years to 43.0 years by 2080. As such, Spain is projected to have the second lowest median age among the Member States by 2080, behind Ireland (42.7 years) which will continue to have the youngest population, when based on an analysis of the median age.
Eurostat projections indicate that there will be 16 EU Member States where the median age in 2080 is likely to be higher than the EU-28 average. Among these, the median age is expected to rise above 50 years in Poland and Greece (both 50.4 years), Italy (50.6), Portugal (52.4) and Cyprus (52.6) by 2080.
Age dependency ratios
The share of children in the total EU-28 population is projected to fall at a modest pace during the period 2016 to 2040, with a 0.9 percentage point reduction, as those aged 0-14 are projected to account for 14.7 % of the total number of inhabitants in the EU-28; thereafter, the share of children in the total EU-28 population will increase slowly. Over the period 2016-2040, the share of young persons in the total population is projected to increase in just two of the EU Member States and to decrease for the others. Germany and Malta are the only Member States where the share of young persons is expected to increase (in both cases the share of children rising by just 0.1 percentage points), while Ireland (-5.0 percentage points), Cyprus (-4.2 points) and Greece (-3.1 points) are projected to have the largest contractions.
The EU-28 young-age dependency ratio — which compares the number of children with the number of people in the working-age population — is projected to rise during the period 2016 to 2054 when it is expected to reach 26.5 %. The ratio will then increase at a more modest pace through to 2070, when it is projected to have reached 26.8 %, before accelerating to 27.4 % by 2080.
Among the EU Member States, the young-age dependency ratio is expected to increase the most between 2014 and 2080 in Spain (up 6.9 percentage points) and to rise by 5.0-6.0 points in each of Slovenia, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia. The ratio is projected to increase in all but two of the remaining Member States, the exceptions being Ireland and Cyprus, where the young-age dependency ratio is projected to fall by 3.5 and 2.4 percentage points. By 2080, 12 of the EU Member States are expected to have a young-age dependency ratio that are at least as high as the EU-28 average (27.4 %), with this ratio peaking at more than 30.0 % in Ireland and Sweden.
The share of the working-age population is projected to fall in each of the EU Member States during the period 2016-2080
In 2016, the EU-28’s working-age population accounted for almost two thirds (65.3 %) of the total population. This share is expected to fall to 56.1 % by 2060, then to rise slightly before continuing its downward path to reach 55.6 % by 2080. In all 29 countries for which projections are available (the 28 EU Member States and Norway), the share of the working-age population in the total population is projected to contract during the period 2016 to 2080. The pace at which the share of the working-age population is projected to decline is expected to be faster than the EU-28 average (-9.7 percentage points between 2016 and 2080) in 19 of the EU Member States, with the largest relative declines expected in Slovakia, Poland, Cyprus and Portugal.
By contrast, the share of elderly persons in the total population is projected to increase in all 29 countries during the period 2016 to 2080. Across the whole of the EU-28, this proportion is projected to increase from 19.2 % to 29.1 % (a rise of 9.9 percentage points). Among the EU Member States, the relative share of the elderly in the total population is projected to increase by between 6.0 percentage points in Sweden and 19.0 percentage points in Cyprus. Eurostat’s population projections indicate that the share of elderly persons in the total population will increase by at least 10 percentage points in more than half of the EU Member States between 2016 and 2080.
A shrinking number of working-age persons and a growing number of elderly persons compound the impact on old-age dependency ratios. Within the EU-28, the old-age dependency ratio is projected to rise from 29.3 % in 2016 to 52.3 % by 2080 (an increase of 23.0 percentage points). The vast majority of this change will take place during the period 2014 to 2050, as the EU-28 old-age dependency ratio is projected to increase from 50.3 % to 52.3 % between 2050 and 2080.
Among the EU Member States, the largest increases for the old-age dependency ratio are projected for Cyprus, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Greece, with projected gains in excess of 30 percentage points for the whole of the period 2014 to 2080. The old-age dependency ratio was expected to increase in all 31 countries, with the highest ratios in 2080 being projected for Portugal (69.1 %), Greece (65.3 %), Italy (62.7 %), Cyprus (62.5 %) and Poland (61.5 %).
By 2050, projections indicate that there will be fewer than two working-age persons for each elderly person in 14 of the EU Member States
Figure 7 depicts developments for the old-age dependency ratio between 2016 and 2050, after which the pace at which the EU-28’s old-age dependency ratio grows is projected to slow. In half (14) of the EU Member States, the old-age dependency ratio is projected to be higher than 50 % by 2050 — in other words, there will be fewer than two working-age persons for each person aged 65 and over. For 8 out of these 14 Member States — Slovakia, Poland, Spain, Greece, Lithuania, Romania, Portugal and Slovenia — the old-age dependency ratio is projected to more than double between 2016 and 2050; this is also the case for Ireland.
Ireland recorded the lowest old-age dependency ratio in 2016 and is projected to do so again in 2080, when Portugal is projected to have the highest old-age dependency ratio
Maps 1 and 2 provide an alternative picture of the old-age dependency ratio presenting the situation in 2016 and 2080. In 2016, the old-age dependency ratio ranged across the EU Member States from lows of just over 20.0 % in Ireland, Luxembourg and Slovakia to highs of 34.3 % in Italy and 33.1 % in Greece. By 2080 the situation is predicted to have changed considerably, as the old-age dependency ratio is projected to range from 45-46 % in Ireland, Sweden and Spain up to highs of 69.0 % in Portugal and 65.3 % in Greece.
A similar pattern of development is projected for the share of the very old in the total population. The proportion of the EU-28 population aged 80 years and over stood at 5.4 % in 2016 and is projected to rise by 7.3 percentage points to reach 12.7 % by 2080. Eurostat’s projections for 2080 indicate that the share of the total population aged 80 years and over will range among the EU Member States from 9.9 % in Ireland to 15.9 % in Portugal.
There are 21 EU Member States where the latest projections indicate that the share of the very old in the total population will increase between 2016 and 2080 by more than the EU-28 average (7.4 percentage points), with the largest gains expected in Cyprus (12.5 points), Poland (11.5 points), Slovakia (10.8 points) and Malta (10.3 points). By contrast, the shares of the very old in the total populations of Spain, France, Sweden and Belgium are expected to increase by no more than 6.0 percentage points during the period 2014 to 2080.
The combined effect of a slightly declining proportion of children and a continuously rising proportion of older persons is a considerable increase in the total age dependency ratio. In 2016, 17 of the EU Member States and Norway had more than 50 dependents for each 100 working-age persons, while by 2080 it is expected that all of the EU Member States will have more than 74 dependents per 100 working-age persons.
The impact of births and deaths on population change
In 2016, there were almost 16 thousand more deaths than births in the EU-28. However, projections for 2017 and 2018 indicate that this pattern would be reversed with a natural increase (the difference between births and deaths) in EU-28 population numbers, after which there would be a return to natural population decreases throughout the remainder of the period to 2080. Figure 8 shows that the projected number of deaths in the EU-28 will be higher than the projected number of births for the whole of the period 2019 to 2080, with the largest gap between deaths and births being recorded during the period 2055-2060.
Eurostat’s projections indicate that there will be considerable differences in natural population changes during the period 2016 to 2080, with:
- natural population increases projected for most (or all) years in four of the EU Member States (Ireland, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom), as well as Norway;
- natural population decreases projected for most (or all) years in 15 Member States (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia); and
- a mixture of positive and negative natural population developments for the remaining nine Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland).
Migratory patterns — immigration and emigration — also have an impact on population age structures, resulting from either positive net inward migration (more people arriving in a country than leaving it) or negative net inward migration (more people leaving a country than arriving). In those EU Member States that are characterised by positive net inward migration, it is possible that the process of population ageing may be slowed down, as migrant populations are often characterised as having a high share of working-age persons. On the other hand, where there is negative net inward migration, the ageing process may be accelerated, as those leaving the country may also tend to be relatively young, thereby reducing the number of working-age persons in the population, while also reducing the fertility rate as well.
Figure 9 shows the contributions of natural population change and net inward migration to overall population change in the EU-28 during the period 2016 to 2080. These long-term projections suggest that the natural decrease in population numbers during the period 2019 to 2060 will accelerate. However, the rate at which the EU-28 population decreases as a result of natural changes is subsequently expected to slow, although the overall effect on the total population change will continue to outweigh the contribution of net migration. A closer examination of each component shows that:
- net inward migration will be positive over the entire period, and will be the main contributing factor to the overall change in population numbers up until 2040, when net inward migration will be much higher than the natural population decrease;
- natural population change will be negative over the entire period (from 2019 onwards) with the number of deaths exceeding the number of births; during the period from 2045 onwards, the negative natural change in population numbers will outweigh the positive change from net inward migration, thereby leading to a fall in overall population numbers, although these two counteracting forces are projected to almost cancel each other out by 2080.
During the period 2016 to 2080, Eurostat’s projections suggest there will be 332.3 million births and 390.0 million deaths in the EU-28, equivalent to a net reduction of 57.7 million inhabitants as a result of natural changes in the population. During the same period, the cumulated impact of positive net inward migration is projected to be 66.2 million, resulting in an overall change in the total population of 8.5 million inhabitants.
A demographic future — concluding remarks
Eurostat’s population projections indicate that population ageing will continue across all of the EU Member States and Norway. Although the EU-28’s population is projected to be slightly higher in 2080 than it was in 2016 its structure will be increasingly old, with a considerable reduction in the number of and share of working-age persons. The ageing process that is underway may be highlighted through the increasing number of very old persons, whereby the elderly population is itself in the process of ageing. While migration has the potential to help delay the ageing process in some of the EU Member States, it may also speed up the process of ageing in those Member States which are characterised by a relatively high proportion of their working-age population leaving, for example in search of work. Indeed, the latest projections indicate that age dependency ratios are likely to continue increasing, highlighting challenges for public expenditure in relation to pensions, healthcare and long-term care costs.
Source data for tables and graphs
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