The active over-65s

The number of over-65s in the Dutch population is growing steadily. On 1 January 2017, the population aged 65 and over stood at 3.2 million, an increase of over 1 million over two decades. This sharp increase is linked to the post-war baby boom, which lasted until 1955. Virtually all these baby boomers have now passed the age of 65. Today’s over-65s are relatively healthy and fit, live longer than previous generations, and take on an active role in society.

Over a span of two decades, the population of over-65s rose from 2.1 to 3.2 million (+50 percent). In the same period, the overall population grew relatively slowly by 10 percent. In 1997 the share of over-65s in the Dutch population was just over 13 percent, versus 18 percent in 2017. Women constitute the vast majority of his age group, as they did 20 years ago. The gap is narrowing, however, as male life expectancy is increasing as well. Similar to 1997, the average age among over-65s is slightly over 74 years.

Healthy old age more likely

Both male and female life expectancy continue to rise. In 2015, a 65-year-old male had a remaining life expectancy of just under 19 years, while a 65-year-old female could expect to live over 21 more years. Two decades ago, average life expectancy at 65 was still 15 years for men and over 19 years for women. The life expectancy gender gap is closing, but women do still live longer than men. The smaller difference is linked to the more equal shares of men and women who smoke. Not only can over-65s expect to live longer, they will do so in perceived good health. Men in particular are more likely to achieve a healthy old age, gaining three healthy life years on average, whereas women have gained only two. Life expectancy without physical disabilities has increased even more than life expectancy in perceived good health.

On the other hand, both men and women at age 65 have seen a slight decline in their disease-free life expectancy. There are several possible explanations for this. Screening programmes have improved and are taking place at a younger age, which has led to greater and earlier awareness of any health conditions. At the same time, progress in terms of treatments increases the lifespan of people who suffer from chronic disorders. Certain disorders, such as diabetes, are also more common nowadays than they were twenty years ago. In 2016, the chronically ill over-65s mostly reported suffering from high blood pressure or joint wear.

Living independently for longer

People not only live longer, they also stay independent for longer without moving into a nursing or care home. At the beginning of this century, 81 percent of the over-75s lived on their own; this share has increased to 88 percent in 2017. Over 617 thousand over-75s live in a shared household while 530 thousand are on their own. Relatively few elderly under 80 live in a nursing or care home. But even over 80, fewer live in homes, a trend which has existed for several years. In 1997, 23 percent of the over-80s lived in nursing and care homes; this share was less than 12 percent by 2017, a decline which is seen among younger age groups as well.

Another increase among the over-65s is seen in home ownership. During the late 1990s, about one in three elderly were home owners; this share rose to 45 percent in 2008 and by 2015, around half of all over-65s owned a house. Six out of ten baby boomers are home owners, as against four out of ten over-75s.

Over 65 and exercising

Today’s over-65s often like to exercise. In 2016, nearly 16 percent of people aged 65 to 75 owned a membership at a fitness centre, swimming pool or other sports provider, while over 15 percent were members of a sports club. In comparison: 20 percent in the total Dutch population aged 4 or older had a sports membership and over 24 percent joined a sports club. One in four over-75s and over four in ten 65 to74 year-olds still take up exercise once weekly. People in the latter age bracket are also most likely to comply with the Dutch Healthy Activity Standard (well over 77 percent). The over-65s are also keen cyclists: people between 65 and 75 cycle an average distance of 2.6 kilometres a day. Only teenagers and young adults (up to age 25) cycle more on a daily basis.

The average cycling distance per person per day in 2015 was: 6.2 km for people aged 12 to 17 years, 2.7 km for people aged 18 to 24 years, 2.2 km for people aged 25 to 34 years, 2.3 km for people aged 35 to 49 years, 2.6 km for people aged 50 to 64 years, and 1.4 km for people aged 75 years or older.

More grey on the road

At the beginning of 2017, nearly 1.7 million cars in the Netherlands were owned by people aged 65 or over. This is 675 thousand more cars than ten years ago. Of all new cars which have entered the Dutch market over the past decade, nearly 68 percent have been registered by people aged 65 or over. This rapid growth is not just due to more over-65s, but also to more car ownership. The ratio of car ownership among over-65s has increased: from 420 per one thousand people at the beginning of 2007 to 528 per one thousand ten years later.

In other words, car ownership and car use have become much more common among the over-65s, especially among women. However, car owners are still most likely men: in this age group, three-quarters of men own a car versus one-quarter of women. Which colour is most popular amoung over-65s? The answer is: grey.


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Explanation of symbols

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* Provisional figure
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2016-2017 2016 to 2017 inclusive
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