New mid-year estimates reveal ageing population

The latest mid-year population estimates produced by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) show that South Africa’s population is estimated at 56,5 million people. The estimates indicate that the proportion of elderly (60 years and older) in South Africa is growing, reaching 8,1 % in 2017. According to the estimates, there are 4,6 million people in South Africa over the age of 60.

Population estimates are necessary to ensure that government and various other sectors, including health, education and business, plan effectively for South Africa. The mid-year estimates provide an indication of the distribution of the population by sex, age, population group, and province.

The mid-year population estimates show that regional variations of ageing exist in South Africa. While almost a quarter of the elderly live in Gauteng, they account for only 7,7% of the total Gauteng population. In contrast, 12% of the elderly reside in Eastern Cape; however, nearly 10% of the Eastern Cape population comprises elderly persons. Mpumalanga’s population comprises 7% elderly, the lowest among the provinces. These should be factored into future planning and decision-making at provincial level and lower.

Variations in age are particularly noticeable by population group in South Africa. Between 2002 and 2017, the proportion of elderly among black Africans increased by 0,5%, among coloureds by 2,7%; among Indians/Asians by 4,2% and among whites by 7,3%. Disparities in ageing by province and population group have a historical context that can be traced to fertility, mortality and migration streams over time.

The growing proportion of elderly in South Africa is indicative not only of a country that is on a demographic and health transition but also alerts us to the new social, health and financial demands South Africa is bound to face. South Africa experienced a decline in life expectancy at birth between 2002 and 2006. Expansion of health programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission and to improve access to antiretroviral treatment (ART) has helped to turn this around, and there has been a marked improvement in life expectancy in South Africa between 2007 and 2017. By 2017, life expectancy at birth is estimated at 61,2 years for males and 66,7 years for females.

The expansion of health programmes related to HIV has contributed to a decline in deaths due to communicable diseases such as HIV and TB. Focus now lies on programmes to combat the increase in deaths due to non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, etc., particularly among those aged 65 and older.

A primary goal of the Sustainable Development Goals is to “leave no one behind”. Monitoring and reacting to the changing population is essential for achieving this objective. To address the continent’s integrated plan to bring about prosperity, the African Union has placed the inclusion of the elderly as a central focus of Agenda 2063. More locally, the National Development Plan of South Africa is tasked with protecting the growing proportion of elderly in the country, catering to their social, economic, and general well-being. Stats SA’s mid-year estimates provide data that inform policy surrounding the NDP and its targets.

Download the latest Mid-year population estimates report for 2017, the unit data and media release presentation here.