According to the United Nations Population Division, the number of persons aged 65 and older is expected to double over the next three decades, reaching 1.6 billion in 2050, and naturally the question is posed - where does Greece rank?
Asia is at the forefront of this trend, with Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan expected to have the highest share of people aged 65 and older by 2050.
While Japan is famous for its old population and was already topping the list in 2022, other Asian economies are in the middle of a significant shift, as life expectation has rapidly improved over the last decades and continues to do so.
By 2050, roughly 40 percent of the populations of Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan are expected to be 65 and older, which makes a huge difference to levels currently observed in highly developed regions, where the share of older people is in the low 20s.
“Population ageing is a defining global trend of our time,” the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs writes in its World Social Report 2023, calling it a “major success story” that brings both challenges and opportunities.
One of the main challenges for countries with ageing populations is to ensure that the economy can support the consumption needs of a growing number of older people, be it by raising the legal retirement age, removing barriers to voluntary labor force participation of older people or by ensuring equitable access to education, health care and working opportunities throughout the lifespan, which can help to boost economic security at older ages.
Especially countries in the early stages of the demographic shift have the opportunity to plan ahead and implement the right measures ahead of time, to effectively manage the challenges that come with an ageing population.
So where does Greece rank?
Greece’s fertility rate is 1.39, which is below the EU average of 1.5 and well below the magic number of 2.1 – the number of children every woman would have to have to keep any given population at replacement level without immigration.
In 1948 there were 210,000 babies born in Greece, and the trend has been relentlessly downwards ever since. In 2021 there were 86,390 births. There were also 58,975 more deaths than births, a number made greater by COVID-19 than it would have been otherwise, however there have been more deaths than births in Greece since 2011.
This is a trend that is unlikely to diminish. Every year there are less women of childbearing age and, by European standards, a relatively large number of women don’t have children. Of women born in 1975 for example, the number childless is almost 24 per cent.
As the number of babies fall, life expectancy gets longer. In 1960 a Greek could expect to live to the age of 68. By 2020 they could expect to live to 81, a number which has dipped a little from previous years because of COVID-19.
Between 2011 and 2021, the median age in Greece increased by four years to 45.5. In the EU, only in Spain and Portugal did the median age increase faster.
As a result of these factors Greece’s population is ageing fast, labour shortages are appearing in several sectors, and the proportion of the working-age population has begun to shrink.
Compared with 1951, the proportion of people in Greece aged 15-64 compared with 2020 was down by 1.4 per cent, but that number is going to balloon in the coming decades. In 1951 the proportion of people aged up to 19 years was 38.6 per cent, but in 2020 it was only 19.4 per cent.
In 1951 the number of people aged 65 and over was 6.8 per cent, but by 2020 it was 22.3 per cent, a number which is projected to increase to 28 per cent by 2040. Then the proportion of people of working age will have shrunk from 58.5 per cent in 2020 to 54 per cent.
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