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Cities have traditionally been the mainstays of economic growth, drawing migrants domestically and internationally in search of job opportunities and/or better standards of living. Yet the youthful picture that is often painted of cities has changed: urban areas are ageing, and this is becoming increasingly apparent across some developing parts of the world. This strategy briefing attempts to provide an overview of the trends expected to occur in urban areas over 2016-2030, and the methods being employed by cities to better adapt them to their changing demographic structures.

Fewer children, more elderly, and increasing old-age dependency

Globally, populations are rapidly ageing – a process that is set to continue through to 2030. Women are increasingly delaying family life, with career pursuits often resulting in traditional family life being postponed. This trend is set to continue, with the average age of women at childbirth globally reaching 28 years in 2021, rising to 28.2 years in 2030.

Developing countries are projected to lead the global rise in the elderly population comprising the over 65s over 2016-2030. In relative terms, expansion is expected to be fastest across the Middle East, led by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. Yet in absolute terms, China is forecast to top global growth in the elderly by a wide margin: over the forecast period the country will add more than 100 million people aged 65+. The BRIC quartet – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – are among the 10 countries anticipated to provide the largest absolute rise in the over 65s.

Elderly to lead global urban population growth

Urban areas are forecast to record unprecedented growth in the number of elderly people in the near to mid-term future. By 2030 there will be an estimated 766 million people aged over 65 living in urban areas – a rise of nearly 330 million over 2016. The large prevalence of the elderly in urban areas is expected to pressurise local city councils to implement age-friendly infrastructure with a goal of improving accessibility.

Given the prevalence of large metropolises in East Asia, cities in this region are expected to dominate growth in elderly populations over 2016-2030. By 2030, seven of the 10 cities with the largest number of over 65s worldwide will be located in East Asia. Seoul is projected to be one of the key markets for the elderly in 2030, adding 2.6 million over 65s through 2016-2030, and continuing to gain ground on Tokyo – the city with the largest number of over 65s globally. With 10 million people over 65 years of age, equivalent to 28.6% of the population in 2030, Tokyo will still be the largest market for the over 65s.

How cities need to adapt to the growing number of elderly people

Urban populations are not exempt from ageing; over 2016-2030, the over-65 age segment in urban agglomerations is anticipated to display the swiftest rise in population, whilst comparably slower growth is projected among younger age groups. Some cities which are still forecast to add large numbers of working age people and adolescents will have other challenges centred on providing housing and adequate training opportunities.

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