We look at the changes in the size and make-up of the English population, as well as trends in life expectancy, changing households and health inequalities, over the next 20 years.

In this section

Key messages

  • The population is growing
    Over the next 20 years (2012-2032) the population in England is predicted to grow by 8 million to just over 61 million, 4.5 million from natural growth (births – deaths), 3.5 million from net migration.
  • The population is becoming more diverse
    By 2031, ethnic populations will make up 15 per cent of the population in England and 37 per cent of the population in London.
  • More people are living alone
    By 2032 11.3 million people are expected to be living on their own, more than 40 per cent of all households. The number of people over 85 living on their own is expected to grow from 573, 000 to 1.4 million.
  • After recent growth, the number of births each year is expected to level off
    Over time birth rates have fluctuated quite significantly. Current predictions are that the annual number of births will level off to around 680,000–730,000 births per year.
  • Life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are growing
    In 1901 baby boys were expected to live for 45 years and girls for 49 years. In 2012, boys could expect to live for just over 79 years and girls to 83 years. By 2032, this is expected to increase to 83 years and 87 years respectively. Healthy life expectancy is growing at a similar rate, suggesting that the extra years of life will not necessarily be years of ill health.
  • The population is ageing
    The combination of extending life expectancy and the ageing of those born in the baby boom, just after the Second World War, means that the population aged over 65 is growing at a much faster rate than those under 65. Over the next 20 years the population aged 65-84 will rise by 39 per cent and those over 85 by 106 per cent.
  • After a recent decline, the number of deaths each year is expected to grow
    The number of deaths each year is expected to grow by 13 per cent from 462,000 to 520,000 by 2032.
  • Health inequalities persist
    Men and women in the highest socio-economic class can, on average, expect to live just over seven years longer than those in the lowest socio-economic class, and more of those years will be disability free.

Key uncertainties

  • Overall population size
    It is difficult to forecast the size of the population and the net impact of migration.
  • Births
    Current projections suggest a levelling off of the birth rate, yet the historical pattern is one of significant fluctuation. There are a variety of forces at work and it is hard to predict what future birth rates will look like.
  • Life expectancy
    Medical advances, future patterns of disease and population behaviour could all have a significant impact on life expectancy and either drive it up or down.
  • Economic impact of ageing population
    Older people could be a driver of economic growth and social wellbeing or place a significant economic burden on the younger working population. The net economic impact is hard to predict.

Demography summary


Source: The King's Fund analysis of Office for National Statistics 2010-based National Population Projections. NB These are based on Office for National Statistics mid-2010 estimates and will be superseded by 2011 census-based projections.

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