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Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | Last updated: 22 Mar 2020

Developments and Forecasts of Increasing Demographic Imbalances


  • The world population passed 7 billion in 2011, and reached about 7.75 billion by the end of 2019.
  • The 20th century started with a global human population of 1.6 billion people and ended with 6.1 billion.
    | Related Megatrends: Inequality; MigrationSecurity
  • Of the world population, 10% lives in Europe and Russia, around 13% lives in the Americas, 17% lives in Africa, and the other over 60% lives in Asia.
  • At present, China and India are the most populous countries in the world, each with more than 1.3 billion people, together representing almost 37% (18.5% and 17.5% respectively) of the world’s population. | Related Megatrends: Geopower


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·        Demographic ageing is not a biological process. It’s a shift from a youthful society to a society with a higher share of senior citizens. The two main reasons for this is increasing life expectancy and stagnating or declining numbers of birth.

·         At a global level, ageing has not been an issue until recently. The share of the global population of over 65 years old only increased from about 5% in 1960 to 9% in 2019. When, however, looking at changes at a regional level, it becomes apparent that demographic ageing has already set in.

·         Ageing already takes place in high-income countries, and it becomes increasingly relevant in middle-income countries.

·        Japan is home to the world’s oldest population, with a median age of  with 27% of its population in age group 65 years and over.

·        In 2019, the median age of the EU-27 population was 43.7 years. Across the EU Member States, in 2019, the median age was lowest Cyprus and Ireland (both 37.7 years) and in Luxembourg (39.5 years). By contrast, the median age of the population was 8-9 years higher in Germany (46.0 years) and in Italy (46.7 years). Also by some other indicator Italy, Portugal (both 23% aged 65 or over), and Germany (22%) have the oldest populations.



·         By 2050, average life expectancy at birth is projected to reach 77 years globally.

·         The global median age is assumed to rise from 30 years in 2015 to 36 years by 2050. According to the projection, the global number of people above age 65 more than doubling from 700 million (2019) to 1.5 billion in 2050. During this time the share of the global population over 65 years is projected to grew from 9% (2019) to 16% by 2050. Their relative weight thus increases from one in eleven to one in six citizens of our planet. Then the country with the oldest population will be Japan. By 2050, some 40% of Japan's population is projected to be over 65 years old.

·         The pace of ageing is the most rapid in middle-income countries than it was in Europe and North America. For countries like France or Sweden, it took almost 150 years between the time when the share of the population over 60 years was 10% and more recent times when this share reached 20%. In countries such as Brazil, China and India the same transition takes place within a period of slightly more than 20 years.

·        In the EU, the median age will rise from 43.7 to 48.2 years in 2050. The share of older people (in age group 65+) will increase in parallel, though unevenly across higher age groups. While the number of EU citizens aged 65-74 years is projected to increase by 17.6 %, the age group 75-84 years is projected to expand by 60.5 % until 2050. The number of very old people (85+) is projected to more than double (+130.3%). And the number of centenarians will quintuple to almost half a million EU citizens in 2050.

·        The relation between those of working age (15-65) and those above age 65 in the EU (defined as old-age dependency ratio) is projected to nearly double: from 34,1% in 2018 to 56.7% by 2050. By then, more than two thirds of the EU Member States are projected to have an old-age dependency ratio above 50.0%; in these countries, there will be less than two persons of working age for every person aged 65 years or more.

·        At first sight one has to come to the conclusion that European workers will have to support more elderly dependants in the future. Defining working age as range between 15 and 65 might, however be too static. With rising retirement age, a redefinition of working age would change the picture substantially.

| Related Megatrends: WorkHealth

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  • 1.2 billion people in the world are young (aged between 15-24 years) —  that is 16% of the global population. By 2050, the number is estimated to be 1.3 billion. 
  • While in some regions in the world like Europe, young people (15-24 years) are a relatively small part of the total population, in e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa young people are almost 20% of the population and it is projected to remain so over the coming two decades. 
  • When it comes to the part of the population that is between 0 and 25 years, that share of the total population is declining in all world regions.
  • However, in terms of numbers, the number of children projected to be born in Africa between 2020 and 2050 is 1.4 billion - more than double the number of births between 1990 - 2020. Africa is the region that is expected to account for the largest share of the world's future population growth.
  • India has almost 600 million people under 25 years old (45% of the country's 1.28 billion population) and China has around 400 million people aged below 25 (almost 30% of the total population of 1.38 billion). 

    | Related Megatrends: InequalitiesMigrationSecurityGeopower

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  • Regional demographics of working-age population are deepening: by 2050, the number of people of 20-64 years old will decrease (compared to 2015) by 49 million in Europe, by 22 million in Russia, by 20 million in Japan and by 195 million in China. Over the same period of time, in the United States the number of potentially active workers is expected to increase by 20 million, while in sub-Saharan Africa the working age population (ages 15-64) is projected to triple, to some 1.3 billion -- about the double of that of all high-income countries combined.
  • The labour force participation rates among adults have for the past 25 years been declining (1993-2018), a trend which ILO expects to continue, considering 2023 forecasts.
  • Although the gender gap in labour force participation has been narrowing over the past 25 years (1993-2018), women's global labour force participation rate is still 26.5% below that of men (49% for women, compared to 76% for men) according to ILO. The gender gap is closing more rapidly in high-income countries, but continues to widen in emerging economies. ILO estimates that reducing the gender gap by 25% would increase global GDP by $5.8 trillion by 2025.
  • Older population keeps more active (by will or by necessity); in Germany, Sweden, and the UK over 50% of people aged 65+ are earners through some independent work.
  • By 2030, hyper-connected, tech savvy millennials will make up 75% of the workforce

| Related Megatrends: WorkTechnology; Inequalities;

  • If current patterns continute, the total size of the EU labour force is projected to decrease during the next four decades. The projected decrease will come from the part of the population with low and middle levels of education. Therefore, the EU's labour force will be smaller and better educated in the future.  | Related megatrends: Work; Education
  • Increasing labour force participation is the most effective way to tackle the adverse effects of an ageing population. Would the EU labour force participation increase strongly over time it could compensate for a large part of the foreseen negative economic consequences related to population ageing. This would be the case in demographic scenarios where either 1) men and women participate in the workforce equally, or 2) the labour-force participation rates of men and women in all EU member states converge gradually to the participation rates in Sweden today. 
  • Over time, Intra-EU mobility could create large population shifts in Europe. The emigration of workers is speeding up the ageing and population decline in eastern Member States of the EU. For example, if the current movements persists, Romania's population would reduce by 30% by 2060 (from 19.9 million in 2015 to 13.8 million in 2060).  | Related megatrends: Migration

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