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South Africa’s white population is facing a big problem



South Africa’s white population is rapidly ageing, with older white South Africans almost outnumbering children two-to-one.

This is one of the findings from Stats SA’s latest report on the social profile of older persons between 2017 and 2021.

The report, which looked at population data for persons aged 60 and up, found that South Africa’s population is getting older nationally, but it is far more pronounced among certain demographics.

South Africa’s overall ageing index score is 33, using 2022 mid-year population estimates. This is up from an index score of 30 in 2017.

The ageing index is a common measure of the age structure and is intended to highlight the changes in the proportionate share of the population accounted for by age groups 0–14 and 60 years and older.

It is defined as the number of older persons (aged 60+ in this report) per hundred persons under age 15.

If the number of persons aged 60 and older exactly equals the number of persons under age 15 in the population, the ageing index equals 100. The values under 100 denote that the number of older persons is less than the number of young persons, while the opposite is true for values greater than 100.

According to Stats SA, a significantly higher percentage of older persons relative to children suggests an increased future burden of care and a decline in future family support.

This kind of ratio also presents other problems, especially on a national level, where an older population can place a higher burden on healthcare facilities without adequate support from a younger base to keep them propped up and funded.

It can also cause havoc within the workforce, as many older people retire without the necessary influx of workers from younger generations.

The World Health Organisation has flagged ageing populations as a key risk facing many economies in the world up to 2050.

“While the shift in the distribution of a country’s population towards older ages started in high-income countries, it is now low- and middle-income countries that are experiencing the greatest change. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population over 60 years will live in low- and middle-income countries,” the WHO said.

While South Africa is still far from having a dominant older population nationally, this is already the case among white South Africans.

Between 2017 and 2022, the ageing index amongst the white population group increased from 155 to 181, which indicates that this population group is ageing rapidly, Stats SA said.

Black South Africans had the lowest ageing index relative to all other population groups – lower proportions of older persons to children – and re-confirms the youthfulness of the black African population in the country, the stats body said.

Older white South Africans also make up a disproportionate number of older people in general, Stats SA noted.

South Africa’s white population only accounts for 7.7% of the national population, but older white South Africans make up 23% of all people aged 60 and up.

While Stats SA does not offer any specific explanation for the huge disparity between South Africa’s white population and other population groups, the group notes that the country has a declining birth rate and an overall improvement in the quality of life, contributing to longer life expectancy.

Further context to the numbers can be seen in the mid-year population estimates themselves, which show that South Africa’s white population, in general, is decreasing.

The mid-year population estimates showed that the country recorded a net increase of 640,070 people between estimates in 2021 and 2022 – however, South Africa’s white population declined by 23,191 people between 2021 and 2022.

The country’s white population’s proportionate make-up of the overall population has also declined from 7.8% in 2021 to 7.7% in 2022. This has steadily declined over the years, from 7.9% in 2019, 8.1% in 2016, and 9.0% in 2011.

In 2021, Stats SA pointed to emigration as a key factor in this declining trend.

Migration data over the 2016-2021 period shows that South Africa has seen a massive influx of foreign nationals over the last five years. Stats SA estimates that between 2016 and 2021, South Africa has seen net international migration of 852,992 people into the country.

This includes a large number of people entering the country from Africa (894,365), as well as a smaller number from Asia (49,854). However, the statistics body estimated that around 91,000 white South Africans will have left the country over the period.

Stats SA’s projections for the next five years (2021-2026) estimate that South Africa will see a net influx of 592,520 people, largely African. However, the white population is expected to see a net outflow of 43,516 people.

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