Many countries are facing a shrinking pool of their working-age populations, often considered to be ages 15 to 64, to support the population ages 65+, jeopardizing pension guarantees and long-term health care programs for the elderly.
Worldwide in 1950, there were 12 persons of working age for every person age 65 or older. By 2010, that number had shrunk to 9. By 2050, this elderly support ratio, which indicates levels of potential social support available for the elderly, is projected to drop to 4.
The Population Reference Bureau’s 2010 World Population Data Sheet and its summary report offer detailed information on 19 population, health, and environment indicators for more than 200 countries.
“There are two major trends in world population today,” says Bill Butz, PRB’s president. “On the one hand, chronically low birth rates in developed countries are beginning to challenge the health and financial security of their elderly. On the other, the developing countries are adding over 80 million to the population every year and the poorest of those countries are adding 20 million, exacerbating poverty and threatening the environment.”
Global population rose to 6.9 billion in 2010, with nearly all of that growth in the world’s developing countries. In contrast, the world’s developed countries, totaling 1.2 billion people, saw their populations continue to age as the numbers of those of working age dwindle. For example, Japan has a total fertility rate of 1.4 children per woman, and an elderly support ratio of 3—the lowest in the world, along with Germany and Italy. By 2050, Japan will have only 1 working-age adult for every elderly person; Germany and Italy will each have 2. “In 2011, world population will reach 7 billion, just 12 years after reaching 6 billion,” says Carl Haub, PRB’s senior demographer and author of this year’s data sheet. “It also took 12 years to climb from 5 billion to 6 billion. The big question now is when will we reach 8 billion? Most likely in 2024, 13 years after the seventh billion, but it could be sooner.”
The 2010 World Population Data Sheet shows the contrasts between developing and developed countries. Comparing Ethiopia and Germany illustrates how stark the contrasts can be (see table). Even though Ethiopia and Germany have almost the same population size today, Ethiopia is projected to more than double its population from 85 million today to 174 million in 2050. Germany’s population will likely decline from 82 million to 72 million over that same time. The cause of these enormous differences is lifetime births per woman. Ethiopia’s total fertility rate of 5.4 is four times greater than Germany’s rate of 1.3.
Key Demographic Indicators, 2010
Population 2050 (projected)
Percent of population below age 15
Percent of population ages 65+
Elderly support ratio (2010)
Elderly support ratio (2050)
Lifetime births per woman
Life expectancy at birth
Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births)
Annual infant deaths
Other Highlights From the 2010 World Population Data Sheet
The worldwide recession appears to have caused declines in birth rates in some developed countries, such as Spain and the United States; and slowed down increases where birth rates had begun to rise, such as in Norway and Russia.
Africa’s population is projected to double to 2 billion by 2050, although this growth could be greater if birth rates do not decrease faster than currently. Africa’s total fertility rate is 4.7 children per woman.
Worldwide, 40 percent of the population, or more than 2.7 billion people, lack access to an adequate sanitation facility. The bulk of the underserved live in rural areas of developing countries. Only 40 percent of people in rural areas in these countries have access to sanitation.
As the U.S. population ages, spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare will rise sharply. Total spending on these two programs is projected to increase from today’s level of 8.4 percent of GDP to 12.5 percent in 2030.