Older population is increasing faster than ever

A newly released report has found that the world’s older population continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.

The report, commissioned by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, revealed that 8.5 percent of people worldwide (617 million) are 65 and over. The percentage is projected to be nearly 17 percent (1.6 billion) of the world’s population by 2050.

“People are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that they are living healthier,” said Dr. Richard Hodes, director of NIA. “The increase in our aging population presents many opportunities and several public health challenges that we need to prepare for.”

The report, titled “An Aging World: 2015,” contains detailed information about life expectancy, gender balance, health, mortality, disability, health care systems, labor force participation and retirement, pensions and poverty among older people around the world.

Highlights of the report include:

  • America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.
  • By 2050, global life expectancy at birth is projected to increase by almost eight years, climbing from 68.6 years in 2015 to 76.2 years in 2050.
  • The global population of the “oldest old”—people 80 and older—is expected to more than triple between 2015 and 2050, growing from 126.5 million to 446.6 million. The oldest old population in some Asian and Latin American countries is predicted to quadruple by 2050.
  • Among the older population worldwide, noncommunicable diseases are the main health concern. In low-income countries, many in Africa, the older population faces a considerable burden from both noncommunicable and communicable diseases.

Risk factors—such as tobacco and alcohol use, insufficient consumption of vegetables and fruit, and low levels of physical activity—directly or indirectly contribute to the global burden of disease. Changes in risk factors have been observed, such as a decline in tobacco use in some high-income countries, with the majority of smokers worldwide now living in low- and middle-income countries.

John Haaga, acting director of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, said many countries in Europe and Asia are further along in the aging process, “or moving more rapidly, than we are in the United States. Since population aging affects so many aspects of public life—acute and long-term health care needs; pensions, work and retirement; transportation; housing—there is a lot of potential for learning from each other’s experience.”


The report was prepared by Wan He, Ph.D., and Daniel Goodkind. Ph.D., of the International Programs Center in the Population Division of the Census Bureau, and Paul Kowal, Ph.D., of the World Health Organization’s Study on Global Aging and Adult Health. Research for and production of the report were supported under an interagency agreement with NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research.