Heath and Aging

Why Population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective

Trend 5: Aging and Population Decline

While the global population is aging at an unprecedented rate, some countries are witnessing an historically unprecedented demographic phenomenon: Simultaneous population aging and population decline.

More than 20 countries are projected to experience population declines in the upcoming decades. Russia’s population, for example, is expected to shrink by 18 million between 2006 and 2030, a decrease of nearly 13 percent. Nine other countries are projected to experience a decline of at least 1 million people during the same period (Figure 7).

While Japan’s total population is projected to decrease by 11 million, the population age 65 and over is projected to increase by 8 million between 2006 and 2030. The proportion of older people in Japan should therefore grow from 20 percent in 2006 to about 30 percent in 2030.

Population declines in more developed countries are primarily the result of low fertility. Russia and Japan, for instance, have total fertility rates of 1.4 births per woman, significantly below the rate needed to replenish a population in the absence of migration. In contrast, less developed countries facing population declines are experiencing increased mortality largely due to HIV/AIDS. Life expectancy in South Africa fell from 60 years in 1996 to 43 years in 2006, and current projections suggest that South Africa could lose nearly 6 million people between 2006 and 2030. Clearly, reversing the trend toward population decline in South Africa and other affected nations will depend on the pace of innovations targeting HIV/AIDS, particularly with regard to the efficacy of antiretroviral drug regimes.

In the face of overall population decline, officials and policy planners must be especially attentive to age-specific changes within populations. In Russia, for example, the population under age 60 is likely to decrease in size between 2006 and 2030 as the size of older age groups increases (Figure 8). It therefore appears likely that the demand for health care services in Russia will outweigh the need to build more schools. Most notable is the large decline in the number of younger adults of working age. The working-age population, which contributes to economic growth and the pension system, is shrinking at the same time that the older, nonworking population is increasing. As a result, economic expansion could be hampered as businesses struggle to attract new workers.

This shift in age structure is seen in many of the more developed countries, including those that are not expected to face population declines in the near future. Both France and the United Kingdom, for example, will experience population increases between 2006 and 2030; nevertheless, their age structure is expected to shift much like Russia’s with nonworkers outnumbering workers. These changes have many implications for the development and funding of social programs, including those addressing potentially contentious issues such as fertility and international migration.

Country Decline between 2006 and 2030 in Millions
Russia 18.0
Japan 11.1
Ukraine 7.1
South Africa 5.8
Germany 2.9
Italy 2.8
Poland 2.0
Romania 1.5
Bulgaria 1.4
Spain 1.4

Source: U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base, Available at: http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idbnew.html. Accessed January 8, 2007.


Age Group Specific population change between 2006 and 2030
0-4 -1,871,127
5-9 -528,531
10-14 -791,619
15-19 -4,082,519
20-24 -4,429,614
25-29 -4,038,578
30-34 -4,159,252
35-39 -1,969,229
40-44 -106,376
45-49 -1,905,554
50-54 -1,887,747
55-59 -580,342
60-64 2,591,884
65-69 365,292
70-74 2,512,341
75-79 800,098
80-84 871,207
85-89 414,395
90-94 604,036
95-99 166,107
100+ 50,111

Source: U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base. Available at: http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idbnew.html. Accessed January 8, 2007.

Publication Date: September 2011
Page Last Updated: October 7, 2011