The median age of the EU’s population reached 44.4 years in January 2022, according to a report by Eurostat. The number is 0.3 years more than in 2021, and it has increased by 2.5 years (on average by 0.25 years per annum) from 41.9 years in 2012. Half of the EU’s population was older than 44.4 years, while the other half was younger.
Across the EU Member States, the highest shares of young people in the total population in 2022 were observed in Ireland (19.7 %), Sweden (17.6 %) and France (17.5 %), while the lowest shares were recorded in Italy (12.7 %), Portugal (12.8 %) and Malta (13.4 %). Compared with 2021, only six Member States (Bulgaria, Germany, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia) had an increased share of young people in the population in 2022 while in the other Member States this share decreased or was constant.
Regarding the share of people aged 65 or older in the total population, Italy (23.8 %), Portugal (23.7 %), Finland (23.1 %), Greece (22.7 %) and Croatia (22.5 %) had the highest shares, while Luxembourg (14.8 %) and Ireland (15.0 %) had the lowest shares. In 2022 compared with 2021, the share of people aged 65 and older increased in all Member States except Bulgaria, where it remained unchanged.
Between 2012 and 2022, this indicator increased in all EU members except Sweden, where it decreased (from 40.8 years in 2012 to 40.7 years in 2022). In Malta, there was no change in the median age between 2012 and 2022, remaining at 40.4 years. In five EU countries, the median age of the population increased by 4 years or more. The median age in Portugal increased the most among EU countries (+4.7 years), followed by Spain (+4.3), Greece and Slovakia (both +4.1) and Italy (+4.0).
Between 2021 and 2022, the median age increased in 24 EU countries, while it decreased in Germany (-0.1 years) and remained constant in Austria and the Netherlands. The largest increase in the median age between 2021 and 2022 was observed in Greece (+0.6 years) and Czechia (+0.5).
The EU’s old-age dependency ratio also increased in 2022. The dependency ratio is defined as the ratio of the number of elderly people (aged 65 years and over) compared to the number of people of working age (15-64 years). The old-age dependency ratio in the EU was 33% in 2022, 0.5 percentage points (pp) higher than in 2021, indicating an upward trend. Since 2012 (27.1%), this indicator has increased by 5.9pp.
This indicator varied among EU members but remained above 20% in all of them. The highest ratios were registered in Italy (37.5%), Finland (37.4%) and Portugal (37.2%), while the lowest were in Luxembourg (21.3%), Ireland (23.1%) and Cyprus (24.5%).
Compared with a decade before, the largest increases in the ratios were in Finland (+9.7pp), Poland (+9.6pp) and Czechia (+9.2pp) and the lowest in Luxembourg (+1.0pp), Austria (+3.1pp) and Germany (+3.3pp).
Past and future population ageing trends in the EU
Population ageing is a long-term trend which began several decades ago in Europe. This trend is visible in the transformations of the age structure of the population and is reflected in an increasing share of older people coupled with a declining share of working-age people in the total population.
According to Eurostat, population pyramids 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 population (men and women combined). The EU population pyramid on 1 January 2022 is narrow at the bottom and has a rhomboid form due to the ’baby boomer’ cohorts resulting from the high fertility rates in several European countries after World War II (known as the ‘baby boom’).
These ’baby boomers’ are now increasing the retirement age population, as illustrated by the comparison with the 2007 population pyramid. The ’baby boom’ bulge is moving up the population pyramid, leaving the working-age population and the base narrower.
The share of the population aged 65 years and over is increasing in every EU Member State, EFTA and in the candidate countries with data available. The increase within the last decade ranges from 5.1pp in Poland, 5.0pp in Finland, 4.7pp in Portugal and 4.6 in Croatia, to 1.4pp in Germany and 0.8pp in Luxembourg. Within the last decade (2012–2022), an increase of 3.1pp was observed for the EU as a whole
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, at least until 2019 (see mortality and life expectancy statistics); this development is often referred to as ‘ageing at the top’ of the population pyramid.
However, consistently low levels of fertility over many years have contributed to population ageing, with fewer births leading to a decline in the proportion of young people in the total population (see fertility statistics). This process is known as ‘ageing at the bottom’ of the population pyramid, and can be observed in the narrowing base of the EU population pyramids between 2007 and 2022.