The UK has an ageing population. The population grew by 7 per cent in the last thirty years or so, from 55.9 million in 1971 to 59.8 million in mid-2004.
Population growth has not occurred evenly across all age groups, however. The proportion of the population aged 65 and over has increased, but the proportion below the age of 16 has generally decreased over the last thirty years. The percentage of people under age 16 fell from 25 per cent in mid-1971 to 19 per cent in mid-2004. Over the same period, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over increased from 13 per cent to 16 per cent.
The older population is ageing. Within the population aged 65 and over, the proportion of people aged 85 and over has increased from 7 per cent in mid-1971 to 12 per cent in mid-2004.
Over the last three decades, the median age of the UK population rose from 34.1 years in mid-1971 to 38.6 in mid-2004. This ageing is primarily the result of past trends in fertility, although recently declines in mortality rates especially at older ages have been playing a major role.
Population ageing will continue during the first half of this century, since the proportion of the population aged 65 and over will increase as the large numbers of people born after the Second World War and during the 1960s baby boom become older. The working age population will fall in size as the baby boomers move into retirement and are replaced by the relatively smaller generations of people who have been born since the mid-1970s.
Sources: Mid-year population estimates: Office for National Statistics, General Register Office for Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency
Notes: Population ageing is defined as the process by which older individuals make up a proportionally larger share of the total population over a period of time.
The median (or average age) is the mid-point age that separates the younger half of the population from the older half.