Population Outlook 2050: an older and better educated population

© Hollandse Hoogte / Roger Dohmen Fotografie
The number of older people in the Netherlands will increase in the future, regardless of the scale of migration. The number of people aged 20 to 64 could decrease in 2050 if annual migration from abroad is lower than forecast. In 2050, people in this age group will also be higher educated than they are now. This is according to figures taken from the study ‘2050 Population Outlook – 2024 edition’ which was conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) at the request and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW).
The previously published CBS Population Forecast 2023-2070 describes the most likely future population trends, but it also contains uncertainties. For this study, seven population scenarios were created to forecast the future population in 2050 if the number of children, life expectancy and migration evolve differently than projected in the Population Forecast.

The seven scenarios outlined in 'Population Outlook 2050, 2024 edition’The seven scenarios outlined in 'Population Outlook 2050, 2024 edition’ The seven scenarios outlined in 'Population Outlook 2050, 2024 edition Growth High birth rate, life expectancy and migration Edition Characteristics Decline Low birth rate, life expectancy and migration Green High birth rate, low life expectancy Grey Low birth rate, high life expectancy Low birth rate Low net migration Labour High labour and student migration Asylum High asylum migration Source: CBS Birth rate Life expectation Migration

Forecast: between 17.8 and 21.8 million residents in 2050

The population of the Netherlands could grow to 21.8 million in 2050 if life expectancy, birth rate and migration increase by more than projected (Growth scenario). If they turn out to be lower than forecast, on the other hand, the population will remain approximately the same as now (Decline scenario). In the Grey scenario, in which life expectancy is the highest of all the scenarios, the number of people aged 65 and over increases to 5.4 million (50 percent more than in 2023). In the Green scenario, in which the fertility rate is the highest of all the scenarios, the number of people aged 20 and over increases to 4.7 million (25 percent more than in 2023).

Population, 2023 and 2050
JaarVariant0-19 yrs (x mlillion)20-64 yrs (x mlillion)65-79 yrs (x mlillion)80 years and over (x mlillion)
20233.75010.4602.7290.873
2050Decline3.35610.0722.7321.614
2050Low migration3.6419.8492.8181.939
2050Grey3.38310.7582.9622.438
2050Forecast*4.04210.8342.8661.942
2050Green4.69210.8902.7371.485
2050Asylum4.18911.1432.8861.945
2050Labour4.29311.6022.9131.949
2050Growth4.81711.7182.9912.284
* Population forecasst 2023-2070

Number of older people is increasing

In 2023, there were 3.6 million people aged 65 and over living in the Netherlands, which was 20 percent of the total population. In all population scenarios, the number of people aged 65 and over increases, in both absolute and relative terms. This is also true if life expectancy increases only slightly. In the Green scenario, in which many children are born and people live less long than expected, the share of people aged 65 and over in 2050 is the lowest at 21 percent. It is highest in the Grey scenario, at 28 percent. The share of people aged 65 and over is also high in the Low Migration scenario (26 percent), which is partly due to the relatively low inflow of migrants aged between 20 and 39.
In the wider category of older people, there is a difference between those who are younger (65-79 years) and those who are older (80 years and over). In all scenarios, the 65-79 age group remains around the same size as in 2023, in relative terms. The share of those aged over 80 will be twice as high in most scenarios, given the size of the post-war generation born before the 1970s compared to the generations after them. In 2050, a significant number of them will still be alive and they will be part of the age group 80 and over.

Population aged 65 yrs and over, 2023 and 2050
JaarVariant65-79 yrs (%)80 yrs and over (%)
2023 15 5
2050Green 14 7
2050Decline 15 9
2050Labour 14 9
2050Asylum 14 10
2050Forecast* 15 10
2050Growth 14 10
2050Low migration 15 11
2050Grey 15 12
* Population forecast 2023-2070

Population aged 20 to 64 declines at low migration rate

In 2023, there were approximately 10.5 million people aged 20 to 64 living in the Netherlands. This represents 59 percent of the population. If net migration (immigration minus emigration) is lower than expected in the next few decades, this group could decrease by nearly 400 thousand (Contraction scenario) or 600 thousand (Low Migration scanario) in 2050.

In the high-migration scenarios, this group actually increases, by 1.1 million (Labour scenario) to 1.3 million (Growth scenario). Whether migration is high or low will have a major impact on the size of this age group, as most migrants are in their twenties and thirties.

Population aged 20-64 yrs, 2023 and 2050
JaarVariantPopulation (x million)
202310.460
2050Low migration9.849
2050Decline10.072
2050Grey10.758
2050Forecast*10.834
2050Green10.890
2050Asylum11.143
2050Labour11.602
2050Growth11.718
* Population forecast 2023-2070

More highly educated people in 2050

In 2023, 37 percent of the 20 to 64-year-olds had a college or university degree. This is expected to increase to 47 percent in 2050. The share of people in this age group that have completed at most prevocational secondary education (VMBO) is expected to fall from 19 to 13 percent. This is mainly due to the fact that today's people aged 20-39 are better educated than older generations, on average. This has the same effect in all scenarios. The share of people that have completed senior general secondary education (HAVO), pre-university education (VWO) or senior secondary vocational education (MBO) will remain more or less the same in this age group. In 2023, more women held a college or university degree than men: 38 percent compared to 35 percent. That gap will be somewhat larger in 2050.

Level of education of the population aged 20 to 65, 2023 and 2050*
JaarGeslachtPrimary education, vmbo, mbo1 (%)havo, vwo, mbo2-4 (%)higher eduction (hbo, wo) (%)
2023Men204535
2023Women194338
2050Men144343
2050Women113851
* Estimated on the basis of actual data and projections regarding the share of people in the three levels of education, applied to the actual population of 2023 and the projected population of 2050 taken from the 2023-2070 population forecast, by age, sex and origin.

During parliamentary discussions with the Cabinet in 2018, the House of Representatives asked the Cabinet to chart the consequences of changes in size and composition of the population towards the year 2050. NIDI and CBS have therefore drawn up seven future population scenarios at the request of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. These show what could happen if the birth rate, life expectancy and migration evolve differently to what is projected in CBS’s Population Forecast. In 2024, CBS updated the seven future population scenarios in the Exploration of the 2050 Population on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. These projections are supplementary to CBS’s existing population forecasts.

This edition of the population scenarios is part of a larger project that also includes in-depth studies of the backgrounds to demographic trends, and the possible consequences of demographic trends for policy and society. That part of the project is being carried out by NIDI in collaboration with CBS.