Asia is the largest continent on earth, and home to more than half of the world’s population. It is also a leading centre of science, technology and innovation.
Despite being defined by geographic boundaries, Asian peoples, cultures and trade links have long transcended national borders. Whether they have been the “stans” of the west or India and Indonesia along the Indian Ocean, Asian influences and peoples are central to the story of globalisation.
Ageing in Asia
Asia is aging faster than any other region in history, a trend that could lead to sharp declines in the size of the workforce and increases in public spending on pensions and healthcare. The consequences could be a drag on economic growth, unless countries have policies to support productivity and high-quality jobs.
Japan, for example, is already aging at an alarming rate and will likely continue to age rapidly throughout the coming decades (see chart below). Its workforce is expected to drop by 170 million people in the next three decades, and this would put significant pressure on government budgets.
As Japan continues to age, a lot of attention is being paid to this issue, with policy makers, businesses and communities focusing on ways to improve the quality of life for older citizens. The Japanese government, for example, has launched several initiatives that aim to reduce the cost of living and improve access to health care.
The ESCAP Shanghai Implementation Strategy, which is based on the Madrid Plan for an Aging Society, also stresses the importance of improving access to social security and other benefits for older people. Across the Asia-Pacific region, these benefits can include medical coverage for long-term care and services, and a pension system that provides adequate protection against economic risks and provides financial incentives to work past the traditional retirement age.
Moreover, it is essential to ensure that the elderly are not isolated and have access to supportive networks. This includes ensuring that they are able to remain in their own homes, even when they are frail and have a limited mobility.
However, many Asian societies do not have strong social safety nets for the elderly. In some cases, the elderly are largely illiterate or politically passive and lack the ability to participate in decision-making.
These challenges require a coordinated effort at the national level. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting this effort by investing in infrastructure and public transport that can increase the access of older people to basic services, such as health care, education, and transportation.
Ageing in Japan
Japan is experiencing a dramatic shift towards an ageing society and will have to adjust its policies to ensure that this process is not as detrimental as it could be. This demographic change will affect the country’s social security, health care and pension systems. It will also have an impact on its economic growth and productivity.
Japan’s aging population is primarily the result of a falling fertility rate and high life expectancy. This trend means that the Japanese population is expected to shrink, with a resulting decrease in the size of its working-age population and workforce.
The aging of the population leads to a decline in economic activity and increases the government’s social security and pension spending. It also has an impact on public debt levels. The IMF recently warned that a rapidly aging population and shrinking labour force will hamper Japan’s economic growth.
While Japan has made some ingenious approaches to address these issues, it needs to implement a wide range of measures to help mitigate the effects of the aging process on its economy and society. These initiatives will include improving social security and implementing a range of policy changes to ensure that the elderly receive appropriate benefits, are cared for in a timely manner and have access to quality healthcare.
These initiatives will have to be complemented with other policy measures such as improving family-related services and addressing the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness. In addition, countries will need to rethink how they protect the mental well-being of their older citizens.
In response to the aging of its population, Japan has implemented a number of initiatives to reduce child mortality rates and increase female employment. The country also has a variety of programs that target elderly residents to provide them with social care, transportation, and other services.
Although these are important initiatives, the aging of the population will continue to have a substantial impact on Japan’s economy and society. The IMF estimated that the aging of the population will reduce the average annual GDP growth by 1 percentage point over the next three decades.
Ageing in China
Asia is becoming the fastest-aging region in the world, with fertility rates slowing and life expectancy rising. This is a major challenge for China and other countries in the region. It will result in a sharp drop in the size of their labour force, rising costs of pensions and health care and increased pressure on welfare systems.
Many countries are struggling to cope with this demographic shift, especially those with a low level of income and a large number of elderly people. It is a time of heightened complexity for policy-makers as they need to rethink policies that have been designed to address the needs of the young and the young at heart.
One of the key challenges is that the ageing population can skew economic growth. A declining labour force reduces the economy’s ability to generate productive goods and services. This can be exacerbated by a decrease in investment and savings, as well as increasing healthcare and pension costs.
Another problem is that a rapidly ageing population can divert resources away from the production of more productive goods and services. This can result in reduced national competitiveness and lower economic growth.
Hence, developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of an ageing population. These are likely to be especially acute for poorer economies that have been unable to raise their birth rate, let alone increase their life expectancy.
This is particularly true in poorer Asia, where the elderly population is growing at a faster rate than the total population. This is due to low birth rates, as a result of which the population is growing older and less productive.
These issues are compounded by the fact that most developing nations have relatively low incomes and few resources to support an ageing population. As a result, they are often forced to resort to social policies to provide social security and pensions for their older citizens.
Despite these challenges, China has managed to make significant progress on the demographic front. For example, the Chinese government has launched a national five-year plan (2016-2020) to improve the health and well-being of the country’s population aged 50 years and over. It is also looking at a strategy to tackle the rising burden of noncommunicable diseases.
Ageing in South Korea
Ageing is a global concern because it leads to health problems and social challenges. It also erodes economies and can lead to poverty among older people. It is particularly worrying in Asia, where the population ages at an unprecedented rate.
South Korea is a country that is ageing at an exceptionally rapid pace. It has the lowest total fertility rate (TFR) in the world. It is projected to become a super-aged society by 2025.
Life expectancy in South Korea has been rapidly increasing, from 55.4 years in 1960 to 82.6 years in 2018. It is projected to reach 87.4 years in 2030.
According to the OECD, Korea’s life expectancy is 6th best in the world. The country has also been a member of the lowest-low fertility group since 2002.
The aging process in South Korea can be seen as an example of how global trends affect societies in Asia. It is important to understand the underlying causes of the ageing process in order to develop effective policies to deal with it.
One of the key challenges in dealing with a rapidly growing elderly population is providing appropriate healthcare to those who need it. A large number of elderly people have multiple chronic conditions, a condition that is known as multimorbidity. The aging population also poses an economic challenge, because they are often unable to work and contribute to the economy.
It is therefore necessary to construct a spatially and temporally explicit population projection in order to adequately prepare for this situation. In this paper, the UN medium variant projection was used to estimate age structural changes in South Korea and Japan between 1997 and 2017.
Table 1 shows that, although a higher proportion of the elderly population is expected in South Korea in 2040 than in Japan, the gap between the two countries will decrease significantly over the next few decades.
The decline in gaps between the two countries is partly due to a reduction in mortality from cardiovascular diseases and cancers, such as stroke and cancers of the stomach, liver, lung and pancreatic. However, increased mortality from Alzheimer and dementia, lower respiratory tract disease, self-harm and falls widened the gap by 1.34 and 0.41 years during 1997 and 2017, respectively.