Asia's Ageing Population - The clock is ticking
Bangkok: (United Nations Information Services) -- The combination of a declining birth rate, and lack of adequate provision for senior citizens in many Asian and Pacific countries, could result in future destitution for many people, especially women, according to a study conducted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
The theme study, Sustainable Social Development in a Period of Rapid Globalization: Challenges, Opportunities, and Policy Options, reports: "The proportion of the population aged 65 and older is expected to more than double between 1995 and 2050 in almost all countries and areas of the UN/ESCAP region,"
The impact of such a demographic shift could be devastating.
It's been known for many years that the "graying population" of developed countries would create socio-economic problems in the not so distant future. But UN/ESCAP population forecasts for Asia and the Pacific predict an even greater social upheaval, since, compared to more developed nations, many developing countries in this region have far fewer social programs in place to care for their rapidly graying populations.
Birth rates in East and North-East Asia have been dropping for years, but now human reproduction in South-East Asia is also declining. So much so, that several countries have witnessed a drop in birth rates below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman.
For example, in 1980, the number of Indonesians aged 65 and older was just 3.3 per cent. But by 2000, it accounted for 7.6 per cent of total population. In China, the 1980 figure was 4.7 per cent. In 2000 it was more than 10 per cent. In Thailand the percentage jumped from 3.5 to 8.1.
From a population control point of view, this may not sound like such a bad thing. But a declining birth rate means fewer offspring to provide direct support, financial and otherwise, to parents who rely on their offspring to care for them in their old age. And the impact is already being felt. "For many, the economic crisis (of 1997) has reduced, if not stopped, remittances from their urban offspring," states the report. It's a reference to the fact that many young people from rural areas travel to the cities for work, sending money home to their extended families.
Having fewer children now will also result in a smaller workforce later - a workforce paying less tax - which could make the introduction of future social security schemes that much more difficult to implement, at a time when they are critically needed. "Public assistance benefits and related services that would be the last resort for many of the rural aged have shrunk or are unavailable," states the report.
No Golden Years - Asian Seniors, women in particular, face social exclusion:
For many senior citizens in Asia and the Pacific, there will be no 'Golden Years', the study predicts. "The majority of the rural aged have no access to pension benefits because many have not been part of the formal employment sector where there might have been some pension coverage. Those still able to work suffer diminishing returns for their labour."
The ageing female population could become the demographic group most negatively affected. Since women tend to live longer than men, they will need more resources, financial and otherwise, to support them until death.
Countries in the ESCAP region are aware of these problems.
"In recent years, some countries have taken steps to expand or upgrade public measures for the aged, and others are about to introduce social safety nets for the first time," the study reports. But to meet this looming social challenge it's clear much more will need to be done.
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