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Demographic distribution: the young and the old around the world


Demographic change has been at the center of recent economic discussions—especially issues related to aging populations in advanced economies. In the U.S., one question is how the retirement of the Baby Boom generation may slow down the economy. In this post, we use GeoFRED to display the distributions of older (65 years or more) and younger (14 years or less) individuals in different countries around the world and then make some connections to the levels of economic development in those countries.

The first map shows the share of individuals 14 years of age or younger for each country. We can see that most of the advanced countries in the world—European nations such as Switzerland, Austria, France, and Denmark; Canada; and Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea—fall into the lower end of the spectrum. In these countries, less than 17 percent of the population is 14 years of age or younger. In the U.S., U.K., Russia, China, Australia, and Brazil, between 17 and 24 percent of the population is 14 years of age or younger. In several emerging economies, such as Peru, Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Malaysia, 24 to 30 percent of the population is 14 years of age or younger. And finally, most of sub-Saharan Africa has a relatively large percentage of young individuals: between 41 and 51 percent.

The second map shows the share of individuals 65 years of age or older for each country. We can see that the distribution is nearly the opposite of what we observed in the first map: The advanced economies with the lowest shares of younger individuals have some of the highest shares of older individuals. In most African countries, less than 5 percent of the population is 65 years of age or older. In Russia, Chile, China, and South Korea, 9 to 14 percent of population is 65 and older. In the U.S., Canada, Japan, several European countries, and Australia, 15 to 27 percent of the population is 65 and older.

There are several potential explanations behind these observations. The most obvious may be the income of these countries: Richer countries have better access to health care, which leads to longer life expectancies. Simultaneously, the birth rates in richer countries are low. These two factors have led to a decrease in the percentage of younger people and an increase in the percentage of older people in the population. For developing nations, the opposite is true. These nations often have high birth rates and low life expectancies, which increases the fraction of young people and decreases the fraction of older people in the population. Furthermore, in some extreme cases, wars and internal strife have led to declines in the proportion of middle-age and older people.

How these maps were created: Go to GeoFRED and click on “Build New Map.” From the “Tools” menu in the upper left corner, expand the option “Choose Data” and search for “Population Ages 0 to 14.” For the second graph, search for and select “Population Ages 65 and above.”

Suggested by Maximiliano Dvorkin and Asha Bharadwaj.



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