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Ageing of the UK population

UK population at its oldest ever in mid-2014

The population of the UK is ageing. Ageing of the population refers to both the increase in the average (median) age of the population and the increase in the number and proportion of older people in the population.

The median age of the UK population (that is the age at which half the population is younger and half the population is older) at mid-2014 was at its highest ever at 40.0. This is a slight increase from last year, caused by the growth in population at older ages. 

Over the 40 year period 1974 to 2014, the median age of the UK population has increased from 33.9 years to 40.0 years; an increase of over 6 years.

Figure 1: Median age in the UK 1974 onwards

Figure 1: Median age in the UK 1974 onwards

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Across the UK countries, in mid-2014 the estimated median ages range from 38.0 in Northern Ireland to 42.1 in Wales. An interactive population pyramid showing the age structure of the population of the UK by country, English region and county or UK local area is available as part of a population estimates analysis tool (13.46 Mb ZIP) included with the Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2014 release.

During the last century, there were peaks in the numbers of births after both world wars and a longer baby boom during the 1960s. The cohort of people born just after World War II, are now aged in their late 60s and the 1960s ‘baby boomers’ are currently aged around 50. As these birth cohorts age further they will contribute to the continuing ageing of the UK population.

In terms of increases in the number and proportion of older people in the UK population, the population aged 65 and over has grown by 47% since mid-1974 to make up nearly 18% of the total population in mid-2014 while the number of people aged 75 and over has increased by 89% over the period and now makes up 8% of the population. 

Figure 2: Proportion of people at older ages, UK population mid-1974 onwards

Figure 2: Proportion of people at older ages, UK population mid-1974 onwards

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This growth of the older age groups has not happened equally for both sexes. Faster improvements in mortality rates for men mean that the number of men aged 75 and over has increased by 149% since mid-1974 while the number of women in that age group has grown by 61%. 

The faster improvement in male mortality is largely driven by changes seen in tobacco smoking and advances in health treatments for circulatory illnesses. Male occupations over the same period have also become less physical and safer. Detailed explanation of this theme is available in the National Life Tables release from September 2014.


Categories: Population, Population Change, Population Estimates, Population Estimates by Age and Sex
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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