Inevitable ageing of the population of Luxembourg
Increasing life expectancy combined with a gradual fall in birth and fertility rates are causing an overall ageing of the population in Luxembourg. A comparison between the country’s age pyramids for 1871 and 2011 bears witness to a significant change in its age structure.
An increasingly irregular pyramid
Over the last 140 years, the Grand Duchy’s age structure has changed from the standard pyramid shape, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, to a far less regular shape. The ageing population phenomenon is the result of a long demographic transition whereby death and birth rates have continued to fall throughout the developed world during the last centuries.
Luxembourg younger than its neighbours
As opposed to what is happening in neighbouring countries, Luxembourg’s age pyramid does not have a rectangular shape, which would indicate almost equal proportions of each generation. This is primarily due to the massive numbers of foreigners in the country: 43% in 2011, compared with under 10% in the other European countries. These foreign residents tend, on average, to be younger than their Luxembourger counterparts.
The comparison of the two age pyramids hereafter shows the changes in the age composition of the resident population in Luxembourg between 1871 and 2011 and more particularly the effects of ageing. Demographic ageing is one of the consequences of the so-called Demographic Transition that developed countries have experienced during the last centuries and that developing countries have experienced recently, even if for some of these countries this transition is not yet finished. In many developed countries of Europe, as in Luxembourg, the demographic transition has been very long: it began during the 18th century and ended before 1950 (Chesnais, 1995 *).
The Demographic transition refers to the shift from a demographic balance where the Crude birth rate and the Crude death rate are high, to a new demographic equilibrium where these rates are low. In between these two stages, mortality usually drops first, leading to a large natural increase of the population, and only afterwards does the birth rate decrease and slow the expansion of the population. At the end of the transition, as the rates are low, population growth is weak; in some countries, the rate of natural increase even falls below 0 and the net population decreases. The continuous decline of both mortality and birth rates are at the origin of the ageing of the population. Indeed, if we further detail these two phenomena, we can note that:
- thanks to constant medical improvements (changes in the causes of death) and socio-economic changes in living conditions (hygiene, nutrition, etc.), also called "health or sanitary transition”, individuals are living longer and are in better health. The rise in life expectancy and therefore in the proportion of elderly people in the population entails a “top-down ageing”, so called because the elderly are represented at the top of the age pyramid;
- the changes in the behaviour of women (school and work), better birth control, changes in the family model, etc. have led to a progressive and continuous downward trend (except during baby-boom periods) of fertility and birth rates, sometimes even below the generation replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. This “fertility transition” has entailed a decline in the proportion of the younger generations during this period and this type of ageing is called “bottom-up ageing”.
In Luxembourg, the crude birth rate has declined from 32% in 1871 to 11% in 2013, and the fertility rate in 2013 was equal to the UE28 average with 1.55 children per woman, which is below the replacement level of 2.1. The crude death rate decreased from 30% to 7% from 1871 to 2013. During this period, the age composition of the Grand Duchy population therefore slowly shifted from a classical pyramid form (wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, meaning that the younger generations were proportionally larger than the older generations) to a much more irregular shape: narrow for the younger generations (less than 40 years old), and a pyramid form from 40 years and over. Thus, while in 1871, the share of young people aged less than 15 years was about 35%, it dropped to 17% in 2011. On the contrary, the elderly (65 years old and over) are proportionally better represented in 2011 at 14%, up from 5% in 1871.
Nevertheless, compared to its European neighbours, the age pyramid of Luxembourg has not yet reached a rectangular form (meaning nearly the same proportion for each generation). This is mainly due to the high share of foreigners/migrants in the country (15% in 1910 and 43% in 2011, up from an average of less than 10% in other European countries) who are younger, on average, than Luxembourgish residents and who therefore boost the proportion of the young adult generation in relation to the whole population. In 2011, 75% of foreign residents were aged between 15 and 64 years (respectively 64% of Luxembourgish residents) while 7% were 65 years old and over (compared to 19% for Luxembourgish residents).
Though the question of ageing does not arise to the same extent in Luxembourg compared to other countries in Europe, the country does face the same concerns. Particularly in terms of the funding of pensions, and more generally, of the retirement system, health care needs and health expenditure, family policies and intergenerational solidarity.
Residents of Luxembourg
Population census (1871 and 2011), STATEC, Calculations LISER
1871-1988 in Statistiques historiques 1839-1989, Luxembourg, STATEC, 1990. / 1989-2013 in Luxembourg in figures, STATEC, Calculations LISER
Girls between 0 and 4 years old represented about 6% of the total population in 1871. Since then, this proportion has been halved in 140 years to reach 2.8% in 2011.