Data from StatsSA shows that between 2002 and 2020, the life expectancy of males in South Africa increased from 59.9 years to 64.6 years, and for females from 67.2 to 71.3 years.
The mid-year population estimates show that the total population of persons aged 60 years and older has been increasing steadily since 2015. In 2020, the elderly population was estimated to be over 5.4 million, accounting for 9.1 percentage share of the overall South African population.
Even though this does not affect people currently aged 60 years and older, it does indicate that the general conditions that contribute towards a longer life are improving, underpinning the general trend that South Africa has and will continue to have a growing elderly population, the stats body said.
Gauteng and Western Cape are currently leading with regard to having higher life expectancy for both males and females.
Most elderly persons died of natural causes. The common underlying causes of death were diseases of the circulatory system, which include hypertensive diseases, ischaemic heart and other forms of heart disease, neoplasms and diseases of the respiratory system.
The three health conditions most common amongst the elderly are high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. The elderly women were most likely to suffer from arthritis than elderly men, StatsSA said.
StasSA’s ageing index, which measures the proportion of persons aged 60 years and older to the population of children under the age of 15 years, increased from 29 in 2015 to 32 in 2020, showing that the population is progressively ageing.
Numbers of older persons generally increased across all provinces, with Gauteng (1.3 million) and KwaZulu-Natal (937,000) having the highest number of the elderly persons in 2020.
However, the year-to-year analysis on the share of older persons to the total population revealed that Eastern Cape has the highest proportion of the elderly compared to other provinces. The rise in the numbers of elderly persons has implications for planning and policy formulation, especially with regards to social safety nets provided for them.
“The demographic profile of the elderly suggests pronounced differences along racial and gender lines. For example, the black African population is relatively young as the proportion of the elderly (63%) is lower than their share in the general population (81%).
“At the same time, the share of white elderly persons among the total population is significantly higher (23%) than their representation in the population as a whole (8%),” StatsSA said.
The ageing index for different population groups amongst elderly marginally increased for black Africans from 21 in 2015 to 23 in 2020.
During the same period, the index for coloureds increased from 33 to 40, for Indians/Asians from 65 to 75, and for whites from 146 to 169. The elderly women continue to outnumber elderly men with a ratio of 6 women to 4 men. As such, a higher percentage of them are widowed.
What are we dying of
The above figures indicate that the probability of dying from a disease of the circulatory system increased with age for both men and women. However, the probability that women of a specific age group will die of this group of illnesses was higher than that of males in the same age groups, Stats SA said.
The inverse of this is observed in relation to the likelihood of dying from certain infectious diseases. This probability declined with age for both males and females. Even though the chance of dying with of neoplasms declined with age amongst females, males were likely of dying of neoplasms, this increased slightly until age 79.
Females of all ages were more likely than males of all ages to die of endocrinal and metabolic disorders. After age 69, endocrinal and metabolic disorders as a cause of death amongst females declined.
There were more males than females who died of diseases of the respiratory system. However, the likelihood of this disease being the cause of death was evenly distributed amongst all age groups for both sexes, the stats body said.
The three health conditions most common amongst the elderly were high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. Between 2015 and 2019, elderly persons who suffered from these conditions increased by 1.6 percentage points, 1.1 percentage points and 1.7 percentage points respectively.
In 2019, elderly females were most likely to suffer from arthritis than their male counterparts. Other conditions that affected the elderly include asthma, high cholesterol, stroke and heart attack.