Revealed: Countries with the oldest AND youngest populations

Revealed: Countries with the oldest AND youngest populations (and how there’s a gap of 40 YEARS between the two ends of scale)

  • The Vatican, Monaco and Japan have the oldest populations in the world
  • Countries with a lower median age tend to have higher population growth rates

It is, undoubtedly, best known for being home to the Pope.

But the Vatican City has another claim to fame — it has the oldest population in the world.

Residents of the micro-state, encompassed by Rome, have a median age of 57.7. 

For comparison, the figure stands at just 14.5 in Niger, making it the world’s youngest nation. 

The global average for 2021 was 30, according to statistics compiled by the Oxford University-backed platform Our World in Data and published as an interactive map that you can use here. 

Meanwhile, the UK and US ranked 53rd and 73rd, respectively.

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The Vatican in Rome has the oldest population in the world with a median age of 57.7 years

Median age acts as an indicator of a population’s age distribution.

In its simplest form, it is calculated by counting the age of everyone and then noting how old the person in the very middle is. 

By contrast, the average would be totted up by adding everyone’s age into one sum and dividing it by however many people live there.

A higher median figure tends to indicate that a country is wealthier, while lower ages usually point to nations undergoing a population boom.

In the Vatican, almost all of its 800 residents are priests and nuns granted citizenship by the Pope or papal authority for being influential or significant with Catholicism, driving up the age of its population.

After the Vatican comes Monaco (54.5 years), the Atlantic Ocean island Saint Helena (50.9), Japan (48.4) and Italy (46.8).

Portugal (45), Germany (44.9), and Greece (44.7) all ranked in the top 20 for oldest populations.

But the UK doesn’t fall within this category. With a median age of 39.6 years, it ranks 53rd.

Meanwhile, the US comes in with a younger population of 37.7 years and ranks 73rd in the globe.

Countries with the youngest population

Source: Our World in Data 

Countries with the oldest population

Source: Our World in Data 

The younger population may be down to the UK and US having higher fertility rates than countries such as Japan, Italy and Greece, bringing the median age down.

The UK in 2021 had a birth rate of 10.1 per 1,000 people and the US had 11.1 births. In comparison, it was just 6.9 in Italy and 6.6 in Japan, data suggests.

On the opposite end of the scale, after Niger, Central African Republic (14.7), Chad (15) and Mali (15.1) have the youngest populations.

Such figures are driven by Africa being the fastest growing continent in the world, according to the United Nations. Between now and 2050, it expects more than half of global population growth to occur in Africa.

Niger, which has the youngest population in the world, has the world’s highest birth rate, with the average woman having 7.2 children, according to the Population Reference Bureau. 

The statistics body puts this down to women marrying young — extending their childbearing years — and just one in 10 using contraception.

However, rather than due to wealth, some countries have a higher median age because they have seen a downturn in birth rates.

For example, Japan has a median age of 48.4, making it the fourth oldest country in the world. But its population fell by 800,000 people in 2022. 

Researchers say countries with a lower median age tend to have higher population growth rates, which is shown here with the correlation of median ages and birth rate

Niger (pictured) has the youngest population in the world and has the world’s highest birth rate, with the average woman having 7.2 children according to the Population Reference Bureau 2018 world population data sheet

The trend — labelled a crisis by officials — has been blamed on people getting married later and opting to have fewer children due to financial pressures.

There are fears that other countries will follow the same pattern.

Birth rates in developed nations have been plummeting for years, with the average women having two-and-a-half children by 2020, compared to five 50 years ago. 

Higher levels of education and contraception and more women entering the workplace are thought to be behind the concerning trends.

Experts fear societies will end up with ‘more grandparents than grandchildren’ and face a ‘myriad’ of challenges, such as too few younger people to work, pay tax and look after the elderly. 

Our World in Data researchers noted that 2018 marked the first time there were more people around the world who are over 64 than there are children under 5.

‘As the global population of people older than 64 years will continue to grow, it’s clear that we’re moving towards an ageing world’, it added.

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