Countries with the youngest and oldest populations
In studying the spread of COVID-19, a Pew Research center analysis of data from the United Nations noted a distinct correlation between several countries with the highest coronavirus death tolls and older populations. Throughout this tracing process, data show that while the majority of the world’s population is young, vast differences are found between regions and countries. And older countries with pockets of dense populations were found to be particularly susceptible to COVID-19.
Stacker mined data from the CIA World Factbook (updated in January 2020) and U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base (updated in 2020) to find out which countries in the world have the highest and lowest populations. The list represents the 25 countries with the highest median age and the 25 countries with the lowest median age, demonstrating which have longer or shorter life expectancies. Only sovereign states and members of the United Nations are included in this ranking, which lists countries according to their median ages.
Researchers have found time and again that where people live has a tremendous impact on their longevity overall. Older populations often coincide with economic development, which spells more retirement support from the government, higher-caliber health care, better nutrition among residents, and lower birth rates.
One thing that is quickly evident is how much wealth leads to older populations who are living longer, giving countries higher median ages, as well as how much war and violence lead to younger populations. As you might imagine, affluent countries with good infrastructure and social services, like Japan and Denmark, have older populations. Meanwhile, countries whose citizens live largely below the poverty line and have limited access to health care, like Chad and Senegal, have some of the world’s youngest populations.
Read on to learn which other factors increase life expectancy, and which ones are likely to shorten a person’s life span.
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#25 oldest: Malta
- Median age: 42.3 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 1.49
- 2020 population: 441,543
Malta’s population has more than doubled since 1911 when the country was home to 211,564 people. Malta has the lowest fertility rate among European Union countries, with 1.23 children.
#24 oldest: Romania
- Median age: 42.5 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 1.38
- 2020 population: 19,237,691
The ratio of those in Romania 65 and older is less than the European Union’s average—yet day-to-day life for the elderly gets some of the lowest marks throughout the union, according to a 2018 Eurostat report. The study found 17.2% of elders living alone in 2018 couldn’t heat their homes; with just 23.4% of those older than 65 rating their overall health as good or very good.
#24 youngest: Timor-Leste
- Median age: 19.6 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 4.44
- 2020 population: 1,318,445
For such a young nation, Timor-Leste faces a wide variety of challenges. After gaining its independence in 2002, the country has struggled to face down its economic woes. With more than two-thirds of the country younger than 30, there is a marked tension between the high number of young people and the demand for jobs.
#23 oldest: Switzerland
- Median age: 42.7 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 1.57
- 2020 population: 8,654,622
Education is important in Switzerland: 87% of adults have completed upper secondary education, which is optional. A 2008 Harvard study linked an increase in education to a longer life span, reporting that even a single year of college can lead to an extra 1.6 years of life. It's not necessarily the classroom learning that adds length to your years, but rather the elevation of your socioeconomic status through education. It may be the case in Switzerland that a focus on higher education is leading more people to live longer, increasing the country's median age.
#23 youngest: Afghanistan
- Median age: 19.5 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 4.82
- 2020 population: 38,928,346
Afghanistan has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. The country, which has been at war since 1979, has not only lost more than 1 million lives to the conflict, but also has limited electricity—according to the Huffington Post, only 6% of residents have access—limited access to safe drinking water, and poor sanitation. Afghanistan is also one of the largest opium suppliers in the world, and the violence that surrounds the drug trade makes the country notoriously unsafe.
#22 oldest: Netherlands
- Median age: 42.8 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 1.77
- 2020 population: 17,134,872
Those who have visited the Netherlands know just how quintessential the bicycle is to this nation's way of life. Amsterdam alone is home to more than 1 million bicycles. Regular physical activity, which raises your heart rate over its resting rate, has been linked to longer life, according to the National Cancer Institute.
#22 youngest: Senegal
- Median age: 19.4 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 4.04
- 2020 population: 16,743,927
In Senegal, 38.2% of the adult population is illiterate, and only about 73% of children are enrolled in primary school. The country's general approach to education means that many aren't able to advance their socioeconomic status in this manner. Many Senegalese aren't able to access life-saving health care, and more than 1 million households go without basics like electricity. Both of these factors are likely to contribute to a shorter life expectancy in Senegal.
#21 oldest: Finland
- Median age: 42.8 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 1.74
- 2020 population: 5,540,720
Finland is one of the best-educated countries in the world. A full 88% of adults have completed an upper secondary education. Better educations mean longer lifespans, both because education helps to elevate a person's socioeconomic status and because it prompts individuals to lead a healthier, less-risky lifestyle.
#21 youngest: Guinea
- Median age: 19.1 years
- Fertility rate (births per woman): 4.92
- 2020 population: 13,132,795
Out of the top 10 leading causes of death in Guinea, nine are related to health. From influenza to tuberculosis to malaria and HIV/AIDS, the country's poor health care system isn't equipped to handle the needs of the country's nearly 12.4 million residents. In fact, 10–15% of citizens can't afford health care, and there is no public system in place that ensures they receive even the most basic medical attention.