Once predicted to be the Asian century, the 21st century may actually see many countries in Asia coming to grips with its aging population.
Japan is the oft-cited example of a top-heavy demographic, a term that describes a population where the elderly outnumbers the youth and thus placing strain on the country’s support infrastructure and finances.
But Japan will not be the only country in Asia with a population crisis as the 21st century progresses.
As countries in Asia progress, their youth are having less children or are putting off marriage until a later age while the rapid progress of healthcare ensures that its aging population lives longer.
Countries like Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and even China will have a crisis of demographics by the turn of the 22nd century as the shrinking youth population accepts the financial and social burden of caring for the elderly, according to the Asian Developmen.t Bank
The ADB say that governments across the region are ill-prepared for this eventuality citing the lack of pension schemes across the region.
According to ADB statistics only 10 percent of China’s rural population is covered by any pension scheme while only 14 percent of India’s workforce is covered.
“As the population dividend that fueled Asia’s rapid growth becomes a tax, the region must find innovative ways to sustain economic expansion and provide better support for its growing elderly population,” said Juzhong Zhuang, ADB’s Deputy Chief Economist
Even middle-income countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia will be affected by these demographic trends.
It is predicted that Vietnam will become an aged society, a society where the elderly outnumber the youth, by 2037 and Thailand by 2039.
The International Monetary Fund has called on countries around Asia to use Japan as an example and act early or risk the growth rates that were sustained in the earlier part of the century.
Experts say that the shifting demographics do not necessarily have to be a burden but can also be an opportunity for change and inclusiveness.
The IMF say that a shrinking workforce could mean more opportunity for women in the workplace and that migrant worker programs can offset some of the burden placed on the population.
“By encouraging foreign workers, including through guest worker programs, migration can soften the adverse growth impact of rapid aging by partially offsetting the expected decline in the domestic labor force,” the IMF said in a report.
Studies by the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs has pointed to immigration as a way to offset a shrinking population. But whether such programs are socially feasible for societies unaccustomed to large-scale migration remains to be seen.