Figure 2 below shows the population pyramid for 2001 and 2017, giving the distribution of the population of women and men across various age groups. Such figures get their name from the classic shape they often take, with longer bars at the bottom (representing large numbers of people in the younger age groups), and shorter bars at the top (representing the older age groups, containing fewer people). However, in 2001 the shape of the EU-28 population was far from the classic pyramid. In 2017, it was further away still, with the top parts of the pyramid being broader, due in part to people living longer on average than previously (see Section 2.2.1 on ‘Increasing life expectancy’). The lower parts of the pyramid are also narrower due to people having fewer children than in the past, including total fertility rates falling below the natural replacement rate. However, the similar size of the bottom two age bands show this has stabilised in recent years (see Section 2.2.2 on ‘Low fertility rates’).
The impact of higher past fertility rates is also clearly seen in the figure, in the bulge caused by the so-called ‘baby-boomer’ generation. The baby-boomer cohort stems from high fertility rates in a number of EU countries in the years following World War II. Subsequent declines in fertility rates meant fewer children joining the bottom of the pyramid after the baby-boomer cohort, hence the boomer cohort formed a population bulge that moved up the pyramid as they aged. As this outsized cohort have now reached, or are reaching, retirement age, they have expanded the numbers in the older age groups, skewing the age structure of the EU population towards an older Europe.
Another notable feature of the older age groups is the prevalence of women in them, reflecting their greater longevity (on average) than men. Although this gender disparity in life expectancy has narrowed somewhat, it is currently expected to continue, with the EU-28 average life expectancy at birth in 2016 estimated at 83.6 years for women, but only 78.2 for men.