May 22, 2020
On the occasion of National Population Day on May 19, Mohammad Ismail Akbari, adviser to the Minister of Health, warned that Iran had an ageing population. “Iran will be considered the oldest country in the next 20 years, and in 30 years’ time we will be the oldest country of the world,” he claimed. “Thirty years from now, one in three people in Iran will be over the age of 60. It is bitter to imagine what will happen to these people in this short period of time; it is certainly worse than the coronavirus pandemic.”
By 2051, will Iran really be the oldest country in the world? IranWire tried to answer this question.
Iran’s Ageing Population Compared to Other Countries
The Statistical Center of Iran conducts a population census every five years. The archived results are available on the website, and can be used to gain an overview the demographic situation in Iran and how it is changing.
The first question that needs to be answered is: what situation are we in now? The relative “age” of a society is determined by looking at the percentage of the population aged over 65. If over-65s account for between 7 and 14 percent of the total, that society is considered to be in the “first stage” of aging. If the figure is 14 and 21 percent, then the society has entered the “second stage”, and if it is above 21 percent, society has entered the “third stage”.
Iran’s population over the age of 65 at the time of the last census in 2016 was just 5.21 percent. Based on international measures, Iran would therefore be considered a young country.
According to the table above, Iran’s population over the age of 65 has increased by 0.27 percent in 11 years.
The central bank’s estimates for 2018 show that globally, countries’ average population over the age of 65 is nine percent. On this basis, Iran is in a healthy position.
Japan has the largest elderly population in the world, with 27 percent of its population aged over 65. In the United States, meanwhile, over-65s account for 16 percent of the population. In Turkey the figure stands at eight percent, and Saudi Arabia is a mere three percent.
How Do Experts Predict the Aging Rate?
To estimate the aging rate of a society, experts generally use three indicators: average age, age median, and aging index. Recorded statistics show that all three indicators in Iran are moving upwards at a gentle slope. The average age has reached 31.1 in 2016 from 29.8 in 2011, the age median has gone from 27 in 2011 to 30 in 2016, and the aging index has increased from 35.1 in 2011 to 38.6 in 2016.
Experts from the Statistical Center of Iran have modelled four scenarios for Iran’s population in 2051:
- First scenario: Sharp reduction in fertility rate reaching 1.5 percent: 95 million
- Second scenario: Gradual reduction in fertility rate: 101 million
- Third scenario: Stable fertility rate of 2.11 percent: 104 million
- Fourth scenario: Sharp increase in fertility rate reaching 2.6 percent: 112 million
There is a consensus at the Statistical Center that the second scenario is the most probable. Officials predict that the trend of reduction in fertility rate will continue, again at a gentle incline, and by 2051 Iran will have a population of around 104 million people.
What Percentage of the Total Population Will be Aged Over 65 by 2021?
A study of the population of Iran based on age groups showed that in 2016, the number of people aged over 65 in Iran – ie, those aged between 30 and 64 today – will stand at 35,834,069. Naturally not all of these people will survive, and in fact, Iran’s own population statistics over the past 60 years show that people aged over 70 in the country have never numbered more than 3 million.
Based on this, and on the optimistic assumption that the life expectancy will rise in the coming decades, Iran’s population of over-65s by 2051 is still highly unlikely to top 20 million people. That excessive figure would still be less than 20 percent of Iran’s population: ie, Iran would still not be considered within the “third stage” of ageing and not even close to being one of the oldest countries in the world.
Countries Set to be the Oldest in the World by 2050
In 2017, the United Nations published a report predicting the relative aging of different parts of the world in 2050. Based on the UN’s calculations, by 2050 the population of over-65s across Europe will reach 35 percent, making Europe the world’s oldest continent. North America is set to take second place, with an older population of 28 percent, followed by Latin America, Asia and Africa. Globally the UN predicts that by 2050, over-65s will account for 22 percent of the population. If we multiply Iran’s current older population by the same rate the UN predicts the global population to rise, it will still only stand at 15 to 20 percent.
In its 2020 annual report on fertility rates around the world, the website World Population Review ranked Iran 157th of 189 countries, with a birth rate of just 1.63 percent.
In this respect, Iran is comparable to developed countries. The countries with a lower birth rate than Iran are mostly in Europe and the Americas. But significant differences in lifestyle and socio-economic conditions such as security, health provision, , prosperity and overall life expectancy, means the change in population in Iran by 2050 is unlikely to be in line with the change in these countries. The United Nations currently estimates that average life expectancy in Iran is at 75 to 79 years, while in Western countries it stands at 80 to 84.
Mohammad Ismail Akbari, adviser to the Minister of Health, warned that the country’s population was getting older and would be one of the “oldest in the world” in the next 30 years.
IranWire has examined this claim. Neither the specialists of the Statistical Center of Iran, nor expert statisticians in the international sphere, have published any information that would corroborate such a claim. On the contrary: Iran is expected to see a gradual decline in the birth rates over the next 30 years, and by 2051 is set to have a population of around 101 million. Considering the mortality rate in Iran, it is estimated that up to 20 million of this population will be around in 2051. It will not even have entered the “third stage” of population aging, and far from ranking among the “oldest” countries.
Therefore, if according to the United Nations, the average world elderly population in 2050 is about 22 percent, in 2051 the elderly population of Iran should be about 15 to 20 percent; in other words, in 2051, Iran will not even enter the third stage of aging. Thus, IranWire will give the badge of “Is not True” to Mohammad Ismail Akbari’s claim that “we are the oldest country in the world in the next 30 years.”
IranWire therefore assesses Mohammad Ismail Akbari’s claim as not true: a false statement aboutsomething not previously disproven, based on the facts and evidence.