Population structure and ageing

From Statistics Explained

Data from May 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: May 2015.
Table 1: Population age structure by major age groups, 2002 and 2012
(% of the total population) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjanind)
Figure 1: Increase in the share of the population aged 65 years or over between 2002 and 2012
(percentage points) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjanind)
Figure 2: Median age of population, 2001–13
(years) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjanind)
Figure 3: Median age of population, EU-28, 2001–13 (1)
(years) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjanind)
Table 2: Population age structure indicators, 1 January 2013
(%) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjanind)
Figure 4: Population pyramids, EU-28, 2001 and 2013 (1)
(% of the total population) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjangroup)
Figure 5: Population pyramids, EU-28, 2013 and 2080 (1)
(% of the total population) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjangroup) and (proj_13npms)
Figure 6: Population structure by major age groups, EU-28, 2013–80 (1)
(% of total population) - Source: Eurostat (demo_pjangroup) and (proj_13npms)

This article looks at the impact of demographic ageing within the European Union (EU), which is likely to be of major significance in the coming decades. Consistently low birth rates and higher life expectancy will transform the shape of the EU-28’s age pyramid; probably the most important change will be the marked transition towards a much older population structure and this development is already becoming apparent in several EU Member States.

As a result, the proportion of people of working age in the EU-28 is shrinking while the relative number of those retired is expanding. The share of older persons in the total population will increase significantly in the coming decades, as a greater proportion of the post-war baby-boom generation reaches retirement. This will, in turn, lead to an increased burden on those of working age to provide for the social expenditure required by the ageing population for a range of related services.

Main statistical findings

Population structure

In 2012, young people (0 to 14 years old) made up 15.6 % of the EU-28’s population (see Table 1), while persons considered to be of working age (15 to 64 years old) accounted for 66.5 % of the population. Older persons (aged 65 or over) had a 17.9 % share (an increase of 0.4 % compared with the previous year). Across the EU Member States, the highest share of young people in the total population in 2012 was observed in Ireland (21.6 %), while the lowest share was recorded in Germany (13.2 %). Regarding the share of persons aged 65 or older in the total population, Italy and Germany had the highest proportions (20.8 and 20.6 %), while Ireland had the lowest proportion (11.9 %).

The population structure of the EFTA and candidate countries was similar to that observed in the EU, the main exceptions being Iceland and Turkey where the proportion of the youngest age group was higher (20.7 % and 25.3 % respectively) and persons aged 65 and above accounted for a relatively low share of the total population (12.6 % and 7.3 %).

The median age of the EU-28’s population was 41.9 years on 1 January 2013. This means that half of the EU-28’s population was older than 41.9 years, while half was younger (see Figure 3). The median age of populations across the EU Member States ranged between 35.5 years in Ireland and 45.3 years in Germany, confirming the relatively young and relatively old population structures recorded in each of these two countries. The median age recorded in Turkey (30.1 years) in 2013 was lower than in any of the EU Member States.

The median age in the EU-28 increased, on average, by 0.3 years per year during the past 12 years, rising from 38.3 years in 2001 to 41.9 years in 2013 (see Figures 2 and 3). During this period the median age increased in all of the EU Member States, rising by almost six years in Romania and by more than four years in Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, Austria and the Netherlands.

Age dependency ratios may be used to study the level of support given to younger and/or older persons by the working age population; these ratios are expressed in terms of the relative size of younger and/or older populations compared with the working age population. The old-age dependency ratio for the EU-28 was 27.5 % on 1 January 2013; as such, there were around four persons of working age for every person aged 65 or over. The old-age dependency ratio ranged across the EU Member States from a low of 18.4 % in Slovakia (with Ireland and Cyprus also having values under 20 %) to a high of 32.7 % in Italy (with Germany and Greece also recording values above 30 %).

The combination of young and old-age dependency ratios provides the total age dependency ratio (calculated as the ratio of dependent people, young and old, compared with the population aged 15 to 64 years old), which in 2013 was 51.1 % in the EU-28, indicating that there were approximately two working age persons for every dependent person. In2013, the lowest total age dependency ratio among the EU Member States was observed in Slovakia (39.8 %) and the highest in France (56.6 %).

Population pyramids (see Figures 4 and 5) show the distribution of the population by sex and by five-year age groups. Each bar corresponds to the share of the given sex and age group in the total (men and women combined) population. The population pyramid for the EU-28 on 1 January 2013 is narrow at the bottom and is shaped more as a rhomboid due to the baby-boom cohorts of the 1960s. The baby-boom was a phenomenon characterised by high fertility rates in several European countries in the middle of the 1960s. Baby-boomers currently represent an important part of the working age population and the first of these large cohorts, born over a period of 20–30 years, are now getting close to retirement; this may be observed by comparing the 2013 population pyramid with that for 2001 (the first year when data are available for all EU-28 Member States) — as done in Figure 4.

Trends of population ageing in the EU

Population ageing is a long-term trend which began several decades ago in Europe. This ageing is visible in the development of the age structure of the population and is reflected in an increasing share of older persons and a declining share of younger and working age persons in the total population.

The share of the population aged 65 years and over is increasing in every EU Member State, candidate country and EFTA Member State. The increase within the last decade ranges from 3.8 percentage points in Malta and 3.6 percentage points in Lithuania and Germany, to less than 0.5 percentage points in Luxembourg, Spain and Belgium. Within the last decade, an overall increase of 1.9 percentage points was observed for the EU-28 as a whole (see Figure 1). On the other hand, the share of the population aged less than 15 years in the EU-28 population decreased by 1.2 percentage points. As a result, the top of the EU-28 age pyramid was wider in 2013 than in 2001.

The growth in the relative share of older people may be explained by increased longevity — a pattern that has been apparent for several decades as life expectancy has risen (see mortality and life expectancy statistics) — this development is often referred to as ‘ageing at the top’ of the population pyramid.

On the other hand, low levels of fertility have been maintained across most of the EU (see fertility statistics) in recent years; this has resulted in a decreasing share of young people in the total population. This process, known as ‘ageing at the bottom’, is visible in the population pyramids through a reduction at the base of the age pyramids, as seen between 2001 and 2013.

Eurostat’s latest set of population projections (EUROPOP2013) were made covering the period from 2013 to 2080. In EUROPOP2013 the EU-28’s population is projected to increase to a peak of 525.5 million around 2050 and thereafter gradually decline to 520 million by 2080.

The comparison of age pyramids for 2013 and 2080 (see Figure 5) shows that the EU-28’s population is projected to continue to age. In the coming decades, the high number of baby-boomers will swell the number of elderly people. By 2080, the pyramid will take more the shape of a block, narrowing slightly in the middle of the pyramid (around the age 45–54 years) and considerably near the base.

Another aspect of population ageing is the progressive ageing of the older population itself, as the relative importance of the very old is growing at a faster pace than any other age segment of the EU’s population. The share of those aged 80 years or above in the EU-28’s population is projected to more than double between 2013 and 2080 (see Figure 6).

During the period from 2013 to 2080 the share of the population of working age is expected to decline steadily, while older persons will likely account for an increasing share of the total population — those aged 65 years or over will account for 28.7 % of the EU-28’s population by 2080, compared with 18.2 % in 2013. As a result of the population movement between age groups, the EU-28’s old-age dependency ratio is projected to almost double from 27.5 % in 2013 to 51.0 % by 2080. The total age dependency ratio is projected to rise from 51.1 % in 2013 to 77.9 % by 2080.

Data sources and availability

Eurostat collects data from EU Member States and other countries participating in its demography data collection exercise in relation to populations as of 1 January each year. The recommended definition is the ‘usual resident population’ and represents the number of inhabitants of a given area on 1 January of the year in question (or, in some cases, on 31 December of the previous year). In accordance with the United Nations international recommendations, the definition of the ‘usual residence’ is based on a 12 month reference period, in other words, those included should have lived in their place of usual residence for a continuous period of at least 12 months before the reference date, or arrived in their place of usual residence during the 12 months before the reference date with the intention of staying there for at least one year. However, countries may report to Eurostat population figures based on data from their most recent census, adjusted by the components of population change that have been produced since the last census, or alternatively population figures that are based on the registered/legal population.

A population and housing census was conducted in all EU Member States, EFTA countries and EU candidate countries in 2011. It is usual practice for countries to revise their annual population estimates once the results of the population and housing census have become available. Population estimates based on the results of the census may introduce breaks in series for the size and structure of populations.

Eurostat provides information for a wide range of demographic data. Data on population includes breakdowns by several characteristics, such as age, sex, marital status and educational attainment.

Eurostat produces population projections at a national level every three years. These projections are what-if scenarios that aim to provide information about the likely future size and age structure of the population based on assumptions of future trends in fertility, life expectancy and migration; the latest projection exercise was EUROPOP2013.


Eurostat’s population projections are used by the European Commission to analyse the likely impact of ageing populations on public spending. Increased social expenditure related to population ageing, in the form of pensions, healthcare and institutional or private (health)care, is likely to result in a higher burden for working age populations.

A number of important policies, notably in social and economic fields, use demographic data for planning actions, monitoring and evaluation programmes — for example, population ageing and its likely effects on the sustainability of public finances and welfare provisions, or the economic and social impact of demographic change.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Demography (t_pop)
Demography - National data (t_demo)
Population (t_demo_pop)
People by age group (tps00010)
Proportion of population aged 65 and over (tps00028)
Old-age-dependency ratio (tsdde510)
Population projections (t_proj)
Population projections (tps00002)
Projected old-age dependency ratio (tsdde511)


Demography (pop)
Demography - National data
Demographic balance and crude rates (demo_gind)
Population (demo_pop)
Fertility (demo_fer)
Mortality (demo_mor)
Marriage and divorce (demo_nup)
Population projections (proj)
EUROPOP2013 - Population projections at national level (proj_13n)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata


  • Population (ESMS metadata file — demo_pop_esms)


Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information