Population projections in the EU
Data extracted in September 2020
Planned update date: September 2023
Median age of the EU-27 population expected to increase by 5.1 years between 2019 and 2100.
Number of people aged 80 years and over projected to rise to 60.8 million in EU-27 by 2100.
This article focuses on the likely developments of the population size and structure for all European Union (EU) Member States and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, covering the period 2019 to 2100, based on the latest EUROPOP2019 population projections released by Eurostat at the end of April 2020.
The size of a population changes in a dynamic fashion over time, as a function of three demographic events: births, deaths and migratory flows, each of which shapes the population’s structure over time. The main outcome of the current levels of fertility and mortality in the EU-27 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.
EUROPOP2019, the latest population projections released by Eurostat at the end of April 2020, provide the baseline projections and five sensitivity tests for population developments from 2019 to 2100 for 31 European countries: all of the EU-27 Member States and all four EFTA countries, using data for population on 1 January 2019 as a starting point.
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 the main results of the baseline projections and includes the most recent official statistics available at the time of writing this article; for a more detailed presentation of this latest data, please refer to the article on "Population and population change statistics”.
EU-27's population projected to grow modestly within the first decade followed by a steady decline by the end of the century
The EU-27’s population is projected to increase from 446.8 million in 2019 and peak to 449.3 million in 2026 (+0.6 %), then gradually decrease to 441.2 million in 2050 and to 416.1 million in 2100, thus with an overall decrease of 30.8 million (-6.9 %) from 2019 to 2100 (see Figure 1).
Across countries, for 11 EU-27 Member States and all four EFTA countries it is projected that the population size will be higher in 2100 compared with 2019, with net migration being the main contributor to the population growth (see Table 1).
An ageing society
Eurostat’s baseline scenario projects that the ongoing pattern of population ageing within the EU-27 is likely to continue through 2100, with both the size and the proportion of older persons in the total population increasing. Various demographic indicators are used to analyse this shift in the age distribution towards the older ages, including:
- the median age;
- the proportion of population in each of the main demographic age groups - 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 total-age dependency ratio (which is a measure of dependent persons - children and elderly persons - on the number of working-age persons).
Median age of the EU-27 population projected to increase by 5.1 years by 2100
Over the next eight decades, the median age of the EU-27 total population is likely to increase by 5.1 years, from 43.7 years in 2019 to 48.8 years in 2100. The median age, which divides the population into a younger and an older half, is projected to increase for both men and women, with the gender gap narrowed by 0.6 years: from 3.0 years in 2019 to 2.4 years in 2100. Median ages are projected to increase by +5.5 years for men (from 41.8 years in 2019 to 47.3 years in 2100) and by +4.9 years for women (from 44.8 years in 2019 to 49.7 years in 2100).
Although the total EU-27 population is projected to increase modestly during the first decade followed by a continuous decrease by 2100, the relative and absolute sizes of different population age groups are expected to follow contrasting developments (see Figure 2). The proportion of children is projected to decrease in both relative and absolute terms, from a share of 15.2 % (67.8 million) at the beginning of 2019 to 13.9 % (58.0 million) by 2100, with the share falling to a low of 13.6 % during the years 2035-2045. The share of working-age population (15-64 years old) in the EU-27’s total population is projected to decrease from 64.6 % (288.5 million) at the start of 2019 to 54.8 % (or 227.9 million) by 2100, representing an overall reduction of 60.6 million persons. This share of persons in the working age is projected to fall below 60 % by 2037 and then remain below this level through to 2100. The proportion of elderly (65 years and over) in the EU-27 total population is projected to increase from 20.3 % (90.5 million) at the start of 2019 to 31.3 % (130.2 million) by 2100. As such, the share of elderly persons is projected to rise by 11.0 percentage points - pp, reflecting an additional 39.7 million persons by 2100. Within the overall EU population declining by 2100, this is the only main demographic age group that is projected to grow, both in relative and absolute term, indicating the continuation of population ageing.
People aged 80 years and over projected to rise to 60.8 million in EU-27 by 2100
The shift in population structure towards older ages is projected to continue in all 31 European countries. The number of very old people — defined here as those aged 80 years and over — in the total EU-27 population is projected to more than double both in absolute and relative terms: from 26.0 million in 2019 (5.8 %) to 60.8 million (14.6 %) in 2100.
Figure 3 provides a graphical presentation of changes in the EU-27 population between 2019 and 2100 by superimposing two population pyramids. Each pyramid shows the distribution of the population by sex and by five-year age group, with bars corresponding to the share of the given sex and age group in the total population; the sex and age structure of a population determines the ultimate shape of each population pyramid. The differences between these pyramids highlight the projected developments to take place in the structure of the EU population between 2019 and 2100:
- the young age population is projected to decrease modestly due to a lower number of births; this narrowing process is known as ‘ageing at the bottom’ (of the population pyramid);
- the working-age population will shrink considerably between 2019 and 2100, thus further increasing the burden on those of working-age to sustain the dependent population;
- the elderly population is projected to 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 2019 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-27’s working-age population declines and the proportion of elderly persons increases.
By 2100 there will be fewer 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 the developments of the two projected age-dependency ratios for the EU-27, covering the period 2019 to 2100. The young-age dependency ratio is projected to increase modestly, rising by 1.9 pp from 23.5 % in 2019 to 25.4 % by 2100. By contrast, the 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-boomers and subsequent age cohorts. Indeed, the old-age dependency ratio is projected to increase by 25.7 pp from 31.4 % in 2019 to 57.1 % by 2100. As such, while there were almost three persons of working-age for every elderly person in 2019, by 2100 this ratio is projected to be less than 2:1.
Population projections by country
In 2100, Germany will remain the most populous EU-27 Member State followed by France and Italy as in 2019
Among the individual EU-27 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 change (increase or decrease). A closer analysis reveals that in 2100 the EU-27 Member States with the largest populations — assuming no changes in the membership of the EU — will be Germany (83.2 million inhabitants), France (69.7 million), Italy (51.4 million), Spain (45.8 million) and Poland (27.7 million), the same ranking as in 2019.
Figure 5 presents the projected changes to the populations of the EU Member States during the period 2019 to 2100, with an increase in the number of inhabitants foreseen for 11 Member States, as well as for all four EFTA countries. Population numbers are predicted to rise by more than 25.0 % in five countries: Malta (with an increase by 39.7 %), Ireland (up 34.8 %), Sweden (up 33.5 %), Cyprus (up 27.7 %) and Luxembourg (up 27.3 %). The rapid population increase in Malta is largely due to the assumption that relatively high levels of net inward migration observed during the last decade will continue over the coming years. Lower increases by less than 10 % are projected in six countries: Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany.
The largest reductions in population sizes by 2100 are projected in several eastern and southern EU Member States
By contrast, the number of inhabitants is projected to fall between 2019 and 2100 in 16 of the EU Member States. Among these, there will be a relatively modest decline in the total number of inhabitants living in Spain, Czechia and Slovenia, where the population is expected to contract by less than 10 %. An increased decline in the number of inhabitants is projected to be within the range of 11-20 % in Hungary, Estonia, Finland and Italy, while large reductions of 21-27 % are projected for Slovakia, Portugal and Greece. Larger contractions — with the total number of inhabitants falling by more than 30.0 % — are projected for Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania, while the largest reduction of all is projected for Latvia, with its population likely to fall by 43.7 % between 2019 and 2100.
By 2100, all of the EU Member States will have aged compared with 2019, 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 2019 to 2100, the median age of the EU-27 population is projected to increase by 5.1 years to reach 48.8 years in 2100. For all 31 European countries, the median ages are projected to increase from 2019 to 2100. Malta, Poland and Luxembourg are the only EU Member States projected to see their median ages rise by more than 10 years (increases of 11.4 years, 10.5 years and 10.1 years respectively). The smallest increase is likely to be in Germany, where the median age of the population is projected to increase by just 1.4 years, from 46.0 years in 2019 to 47.4 years by 2100. Cyprus is projected to have the youngest population in 2100, with a median age of 46.6 years followed closely by Sweden (46.9 years).
Eurostat projections indicate that in 2100 there will be 16 EU Member States where the median age is likely to be higher than the EU-27 average. Among these, the median age is expected to rise above 50.0 years in six countries: Poland (51.5 years), Malta (51.4 years), Italy (51.3 years), Finland (50.8 years), Croatia (50.5 years) and Spain (50.2 years) by 2100.
Age dependency ratios
The share of children in the total EU-27 population is projected to fall at a modest pace during the period 2019 to 2035, from 15.2 % to 13.6 % (thus a 1.6 pp reduction); thereafter, this share will remain stable at 13.6 % for the next decade, followed by a modest increase by 2100 (up to 13.9 %). Over the period 2019 to 2035, the share of children (0-14 years) in the total population is projected to decrease in all EU Member States apart Germany, for which a narrow increase of +0.3 pp is projected (up to 13.9 % in 2035). Small contractions of less than 1.0 pp are projected for six EU Member States: Denmark, Cyprus, Hungary, Austria, Netherlands and Portugal, while the largest contractions in 2035 are projected for Ireland (-3.7 pp), Finland (-3.2 pp) and Poland (-3.1 pp). From 2036 onwards, modest increases are projected for some countries while for others the contraction will continue until 2100.
The EU-27 young-age dependency ratio — which compares the number of children with the number of people in the working-age population — is projected to decrease by 0.9 pp during the period 2019 to 2035, from 23.5 % to 22.6 %. The ratio will then start increasing at a modest pace, remaining almost constant at 24.3 % during the 2060' decade, before starting again to increase from 2070 until 2100, when is projected to reach 25.4 %.
Among the EU-27 Member States, 22 are likely to have an increase in the young-age-dependency ratio by 2100, with the highest in Germany (up to 4.9 pp) followed by Portugal (up to 4.3 pp). Smaller increases between 2.0-3.0 pp are projected for Hungary (3.0 pp), Bulgaria (2.8 pp), Italy (2.7 pp), Slovakia (2.6 pp) and Cyprus (2.0 pp). The young-age dependency ratio is projected to decrease in five EU Member States, with the highest contraction in Ireland (-4.3 pp). By 2100, 12 EU-27 Member States are expected to have a young-age dependency ratio that is at least as high as for the EU-27 (25.4 %), with this ratio peaking for France (27.8 %), Denmark and Ireland (both 27.1 %).
The share of the working-age population is projected to fall in each of the EU Member States during the period 2019-2100
In 2019, the EU-27’s working-age population (aged between 15-64 years) accounted for almost two thirds (64.6 %) of the total population. This share is projected to fall continuously, down to 56.2 % by 2055, followed by a plateau at 56.1 % until 2070, then continuing its downward path to reach 54.8 % by 2100. In all 31 European countries (the 27 EU Member States and four EFTA countries), the share of the working-age population in the total population is projected to contract during the period 2019 to 2100. The pace at which the share of the working-age population is projected to decline is expected to be faster than the EU-27 average (-9.8 pp between 2019 and 2100) in 15 of the EU-27 Member States, with the largest relative declines in Luxembourg, Slovakia, Poland and Malta (more than -13.0 pp).
By contrast, the proportion of elderly persons (aged 65 years and over) in the total population is projected to increase in all 31 countries during the period 2019 to 2100. At EU-27 level, this proportion is projected to increase from 20.3 % to 31.3 % (a rise of 11.0 pp), while at country level the range of increase is projected between +8.3 pp in Germany (from 21.5 % to 29.8 %) and +17.2 pp in Luxembourg (from 14.4 % to 31.6%). Eurostat’s population projections indicate that between 2019 and 2100 the share of elderly persons in the total population will increase by at least +10.0 pp in all 27 EU Member States except Germany, Sweden and Czechia.
The shrinking number of working-age persons and the growing number of elderly persons will determine the pattern developments of the old-age dependency ratio. At EU-27 level, the old-age dependency ratio is projected to rise from 31.4 % in 2019 to 57.1 % by 2100 (an increase of +25.7 pp). The larger part of this growth will take place at fast pace during the period 2019 to 2060, when is projected to reach 54.0 % (+22.6 pp), followed by a plateau at a level of 54.0 % for the next decade, then slowly increasing to 57.1 % (+3.1 pp) by 2100. For all 31 European countries, by 2100 the old-age-dependency ratios are projected to be over 50.0 %, with the exception of Iceland (49.0 %), with an increase of at least 20.0 pp between 2019 and 2100. Among the EU-27 Member States, the highest values are projected for Poland (63.2 %), Italy (62.4%), Malta (61.9%) and Finland (61.7%).
Already in 2060, the projections indicate that there will be fewer than two working-age persons for each elderly person in more than half of the EU-27 Member States
Figure 7 depicts developments for the EU-27's old-age dependency ratio between 2019 and 2060, after which the pace of growth is projected to slow. In more than half (19) of the EU Member States, the old-age dependency ratio is projected to be higher than 50.0 % by 2060 — in other words, there will be fewer than two working-age persons for each person aged 65 and over. For six EU-27 Member States — Slovakia, Poland, Luxembourg, Romania, Ireland and Lithuania — the old-age dependency ratio is projected to more than double between 2019 and 2060.
Maps 1 and 2 provide an alternative picture of the old-age dependency ratios in 2019 and 2100. In 2019, the old-age dependency ratio ranged across the EU-27 Member States from lows of 20.7 % in Luxembourg to highs of 35.7 % in Italy and 35.1 % in Finland. By 2100 the situation is projected to changed considerably, with the old-age dependency ranging from 52-55 % in Cyprus, Sweden, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands up to highs of 63.2 % in Poland and 62.4 % in Italy.
A similar pattern of development is projected for the very old population as a share in the total population. The proportion of the EU-27 population aged 80 years and over stood at 5.8 % in 2019 and is projected to reach 14.6 % by 2100 ( up by +8.8 pp). Eurostat’s projections indicate that for all 31 European countries the share of the total population aged 80 years and over will be higher than 12.0 % by 2100. Among the EU-27 Member States, this share will range from 13.0 % in Cyprus to 16.4 % in Poland. There are 20 EU Member States for which the projections indicate that the share of the very old in the total population will increase between 2019 and 2100 by more than the EU-27 average (8.8 pp), with the largest gains expected in Poland (12.0 pp), Slovakia (11.6 pp) and Malta (11.3 pp); by contrast, the smallest increase is projected for Germany (6.9 pp). The combined effect of a slightly declining number of children, shrinking of the working age population and a continuously rising number of older persons is that of a considerable increase in the total-age dependency ratio. Among the 31 European countries, 23 had more than 50 dependents for every 100 working-age persons in 2019 and by 2100 it is projected that all countries will have more than 76 dependents per 100 working-age persons. Across the EU Member States, it is projected that 23 countries will have more than 83 dependents per 100 working-age persons by 2100.
The impact of births and deaths on population change
At EU level, over the entire period between 2019 and 2100, a higher number of deaths than live births is projected, resulting in a continuous negative natural change (the difference between births and deaths) with different patterns of evolving. Figure 8 shows the likely developments for each vital event, with the widest gap between the numbers of deaths and births projected for the decade from 2055 to 2064, reaching around 1.9 million persons.
Eurostat’s projections indicate that there will be considerable differences in natural population changes developments during the period from 2019 to 2100, with:
- positive natural change over the entire projections horizon — for 10 EU-27 Member States (Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden), and two EFTA countries (Norway and Switzerland);
- negative natural change over the entire projections horizon — for 12 EU-27 Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Croatia, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and Finland) and two EFTA countries (Iceland and Liechtenstein); and
- a mixture of positive and negative natural population changes — for the five remaining EU-27 Member States (Czechia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania).
Migratory patterns — immigration and emigration — also have an impact on population age structures, resulting from either positive net migration (more people arriving in a country than leaving it) or negative net migration (more people leaving a country than arriving). In those EU Member States which are characterised by positive net 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 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 migration to overall population change in the EU-27 during the period 2019 to 2100, suggesting that for the entire projections horizon:
- the net migration will be positive over the entire period and will be the only component contributing to the population growth; it is projected to be lower than in 2019 (1.3 million) all through the projections period, with a minimum of just below 1.0 million for more than two decades (from 2024 until 2046), followed by a modest increasing by 2100; and
- the natural change (defined as the difference between the numbers of live births and deaths) will be negative over the entire period, and thus without contribution to the population growth; its steep contraction will continue until the year 2060, followed by a modest increase by 2100.
Over the period 2019 to 2100, Eurostat’s projections suggest there will be 312.5 million births and 427.5 million deaths in the EU-27, equivalent to a net reduction of 115.0 million inhabitants as a result of natural changes in the population. The cumulated net migration is projected to contribute with an increase of 84.3 million persons, resulting in an overall decrease of 30.8 million inhabitants in the total population.
A demographic future — a greying population
Eurostat’s population projections indicate that population ageing will continue across all of the EU-27 Member States and EFTA countries. The EU-27’s population is projected to be lower in 2100 than it was in 2019 and its structure will be increasingly old, with a considerable reduction in the number and share of working-age persons. The ageing process 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-27 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 to increase, highlighting challenges for public expenditure in relation to pensions, healthcare and long-term care costs.
Source data for tables and graphs