About the data
Statistics and projections produced by Office for National Statistics (ONS) have long shown that the UK’s population is ageing. The latest projections show that in 50 years’ time there is likely to be an additional 8.6 million people aged 65 years and over – a population roughly the size of London. The fastest increase will be seen in the 85 years and over age group.
The changing and ageing structure of our population is driven primarily by two factors. Firstly, improvements in life expectancy mean that people are living longer and reaching older ages. Along with this, there has been a decrease in fertility rates, with people are having fewer children as well having children later in life.
Older people account for the highest proportion of the population in rural and coastal areas, like Somerset. Often inward migration of older people coupled with the outward migration of younger people, typically in the 20s and 30s, further compounds this demographic shift.
In 1997, 19.6% of Somerset’s population were under 16 years of age, 61.0% were between 16 and 64 and 19.4% were aged 65 and over. By 2007, the population under 16 years of age had dropped to 18.2%, whilst the population aged 65 and over had increased to 19.8%. ONS projections show that this trend towards an ageing population is set to continue over the next 20+ years. Projections show that by 2036 nearly one third of the population in Somerset will be 65 or over.
Somerset’s working age population (16-64) is set to decrease in absolute terms as well as relative in the future. In the last couple of years, growth in the working age population has already levelled off and projections through to 2026 suggest this is likely to remain the case. However, by 2036 the working age population in Somerset is expected to have decreased.
When we look at demographic breakdowns at the district level, we see that West Somerset, Somerset’s most rural and sparsely populated district, has a notably older population than the others, with 3% more people aged 65 and over than the Somerset average. Projections show that by 2036, this difference between West Somerset and Somerset’s four remaining districts will be even starker. Indeed, 43.7% of West Somerset’s total population is likely to be aged 65 and over, some 11.8% above the average for Somerset.
The chart below further breaks down the respective populations of Somerset, the South West and England by age group. Besides showing, in simple terms, that Somerset’s population is older than both the South West’s and England’s, it also clearly demonstrates a dearth of people in their 20s and 30s, which is typically attributed to outward migration for educational and/or employment opportunities. Though to a lesser extent, this is also true of the South West as whole. Conversely, Somerset’s population is relatively larger for the 50+ cohort, attributed in part to inward migration of people later in life, including retirees.
Source: ONS, NOMIS, Population Projections Nov 2018, and Population estimates Sept 2019