Challenges and opportunities
The Asia-Pacific region is currently home to about 60 per cent of the world’s population of older persons, defined as people at 60 years or older. The region is experiencing population ageing at an unprecedented pace, due to rapidly falling fertility rates and tremendous improvements in life expectancy. The number of older persons in the region is expected to more than double from 547 million in 2016 to nearly 1.3 billion by 2050. By then, one in four people in the region are expected to be over 60 years old. It is also projected that the proportion of the “oldest-old”, those above 80 years of age, will increase and constitute one fifth of the older population in the region by 2050. Due to the longer life expectancy for women, the majority of older persons are women with their proportion increasing with age: among the population older than 80, 63 per cent are women. Click here to learn more about the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
While the timing and pace of ageing differs across Asia and the Pacific, all countries will experience an increasingly older population in the years to come.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will tackle the challenges associated with a large and growing ageing population globally, including in the Asia-Pacific region. With its clarion call to leave no one behind, the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals will focus on reaching vulnerable and marginalized groups such as older persons. While the standard of living of older persons forms natural part of all SDGs, of particular relevance is, inter alia, the first SDG which calls for eradicating extreme poverty for everyone, including older persons - and the second goal calls for an end to hunger for all people, including older persons. SDG 10 seeks to reduce inequalities, and to promote political and social inclusive for all, "irrespective of age, sex, disability".
The situation of older persons varies greatly, being a segment of the population with rich experiences and diverse needs. Many are active as workers, entrepreneurs, caregivers, educators, volunteers, voters, custodians of culture etc. At the same time older persons in the region are particularly at risk of poverty and social exclusion, often lacking access to adequate resources, services and participation. Age-based discrimination and mandatory retirement ages pose challenges to remaining active in working life. With weak social protection systems, rural-to-urban migration and changing family structures many are left with no secure source of income.
Gender inequality and discrimination against women is perpetuated into old age. Women are more vulnerable to falling into poverty, often being more financially dependent than men due to lower labour force participation, less participation in the formal sector and with lower education levels. Without having been in paid employment or with average lower wages than men, women tend to have lower or no savings or access to contributory pension. Of particular concern are the many widowed women in the region, without adequate income.
With increasing age, health and well-being remains equally important. Non-communicable diseases, chronic diseases and disabilities are of great concern for many older persons, with diseases affecting older persons in developing countries far more than in the developed world. Yet, health systems in the region are not sufficiently adapted meet the needs of older persons.
This demographic transition towards an ageing society in the Asia-Pacific region has deep social, economic and political implications. Shrinking working-age populations will affect future economic growth. Increasing old-age dependency ratios will mean fewer people in work will have to support a growing number of older persons. This will also place a significant strain on social security systems, infrastructure and the provision of health care services.
Population ageing is most dramatic demographic transition of our time, presenting not just challenges but also opportunities. Older persons play crucial roles in families, communities and in the society at large. Asia-Pacific, as other regions, needs to prepare for the future ageing societies.
Since the adoption of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing by the General Assembly in 2002, the international community has increasingly paid attention to the situation of older persons. There is also a growing recognition of the importance of policies and legal frameworks that safeguard and recognize the fundamental rights of older persons to live dignified, independent and healthy lives. Among the main human rights challenges for older persons are discrimination on the basis of age, at times combined with discrimination on other grounds, violence and abuse, rights in relation to work, social security, health and to an adequate standard of living. Various stakeholders have called for more visibility of older persons and increased use of international human rights standards to address their situation globally.
ESCAP’s work to support member States for an ageing society is guided by the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and the 2012 Bangkok Statement on the Asia-Pacific Review of the Implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
ESCAP aims to strengthen regional cooperation and enhance government capacity to design and implement policy measures that empower older persons, promote and protect the rights of older persons and facilitate social and economic adjustments needed to respond to the rapid demographic transition. This includes advocating for the strengthening of social protection and enhancing health care for older persons, as well as addressing the specific needs of older women. ESCAP also provides a forum for member States to exchange information and good practices on ageing.
Accelerate the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA)
The third review of the Madrid International Plan of Action will take place in 2017. ECOSOC Resolution 2015/5 gives a strong mandate to regional commissions to conduct the review. Research products as well as preparatory meetings at the regional levels will serves as inputs to the regional and global review of MIPAA. Click here to learn more about the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.
The second global review and appraisal of Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing was undertaken in 2013 at the Commission for Social Development.
As part of the regional review of the Madrid International Plan of Action, ESCAP led three key preparatory processes for the Asia-Pacific region: (i) the Regional Preparatory Meeting organized by ESCAP, and hosted by the Government of China, in Beijing in November 2011; (ii) a regional intergovernmental survey on progress and challenges thus far in the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action: and (iii) the Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting on the Second Review and Appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action, held in September 2012, in Bangkok.
The regional review at the Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting in 2012 led to the adoption of the Bangkok Statement on the Asia-Pacific Review of the Implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, which served as the region’s input to the global review of second global review and appraisal of MIPAA.
Advancing health and well-being into old age
As the population grows older the need for health-care and long-term care services is expected to increase considerably and elderly care is consequently a key component addressed under Advancing health and well-being into old age, one of the three pillars of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA).
The limited capacity to meet the rising demands for elderly care services was identified as one of the critical challenges for the region, during the Asia-Pacific consultations held in preparation for the second review and appraisal of the MIPAA in 2012, and it is addressed in the recommendations of the 2012 Bangkok Statement on the Asia-Pacific Review of the Implementation of the MIPAA.
To respond to the needs of member States, ESCAP is implementing a project in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, China, to provide guidance and promote the exchange of good practices on health-care and long-terms care services in the ESCAP region. This work builds upon the work ESCAP has been doing over the years on elderly care services.
Promoting income security for older persons
Income security for older persons is another important element of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA). Currently, many older persons do not have access to adequate income security. Only a relatively small percentage of the current working population contributes to a pension scheme, which risks leaving future generations of older persons without income security. To respond to the needs of member States, ESCAP is implementing a project in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea to assess the status of prevailing pension systems in the Asia-Pacific region as well as identify good practices and areas for reform.