Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011
 
People - Demographic trends
Population
Data sources: United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision.

Just over 4.2 billion people live in the Asia-Pacific region in 2010, constituting 61% of the world’s population. Asia-Pacific population growth rates have declined from 1.5% in the early 1990s to 1.0% in 2010 due to declining birth rates and a stabilization in death rates over the last two decades. These totals however hide wide variations between countries of the region.

Population growth

Population growth in the region has been steadily declining over the last two decades. In 2010 the Asia-Pacific region’s annual population growth rate averaged at 1.0%, while the world population growth rate, which has been falling at a slower rate, averaged slightly higher (at 1.2%) over a similar period.

Figure I.1 – Index of population, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 to 2010

Figure I.1 – Index of population, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 to 2010

Trends in population growth vary by subregion. Population growth rates have been decreasing in almost all subregions since 2000. The decline has been slightly faster in South-East Asia and in South and South-West Asia. The rates have also fallen in East and North-East Asia since 2000; although they have remained relatively constant since 2003. The lowest figure in the Asia-Pacific region is that of North and Central Asia, a subregion where the population growth rate dropped to an average of -0.1% between 1990 and 2000, but subsequently rose to 0.3% in 2010.

Differences in population growth rates by country are greater than by subregion level. Four countries experienced a negative annual average population growth between 2005 and 2010: Georgia, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands and the Russian Federation.

In the two most populous countries of the region (China and India), the growth rates fell to 0.5% and 1.2%, respectively, in 2010. Pacific island developing economies currently record the highest average annual population growth rates in the Asia-Pacific region. Growth rates over 2.0% were found in Afghanistan; Macao, China; Papua New Guinea; Singapore; Solomon Islands; Timor-Leste; and Vanuatu.

Birth

The population growth trends are largely a consequence of declining birth rates across the region. Countries with the most rapid declines in the crude birth rate (CBR) include Bhutan, Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Maldives, and Singapore with declines exceeding 40% from the 1990-1995 average to 2010. In 2010, the CBR was highest (over 35) in the two countries with the highest population growth rates: Afghanistan and Timor-Leste. The lowest birth rates were found in East and North-East Asia, with only Mongolia exceeding 15. Japan and Hong Kong, China had the region’s lowest CBRs at less than 9.

Death

In East and North-East Asia the crude death rate (CDR) rose from 6.9 in 1990-1995 to 7.5 in 2005-2010. In North and Central Asia the CDR ranged from 12 (1990-1995) to a peak of 13 (2000-2005) then fell to 12 in 2005-2010. In all other subregions, the CDR decreased between 1990-1995 and 2005-2010. At the country level, most countries show rates between 5 and 10. The only country with a CDR above 15 is Afghanistan.

In theory, falling death rates, especially at the earlier stages of the demographic transition, relate to higher life expectancy at birth. However, age structure also plays a significant role in death rates. As populations age, death rates may again increase.

Fertility

CBRs relate closely to the total fertility rate (TFR). For the Asia-Pacific region the average TFR for 2010 was 2.1, which equates approximately to the replacement level. This TFR is similar to that of Latin America and the Caribbean and North America, though substantially higher than that of Europe and lower than that of Africa. In East and North-East Asia and North and Central Asia, the TFR is 1.6 and 1.8 respectively (well below replacement). In the long run that could portend population decline, unless high levels of in-migration are experienced.

In South-East Asia and the Pacific, TFRs are just above the regional aggregate figure (at 2.2 and 2.4 respectively), while in South and South-West Asia the figure is 2.7. Although South and South- West Asia has the highest TFR, this subregion has many countries which have experienced large declines in TFR, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Maldives, and Nepal. In the South-East Asian countries of Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic, large declines have also occurred. Pacific island developing economies have a high TFR at 3.7 and while the TFR has been falling, the decline has happened more slowly than in other subregions.

Figure I.2 – Adolescent fertility rate, Asia and the Pacific, annual averages 1995-2000 and 2005-2010

Figure I.2 – Adolescent fertility rate, Asia and the Pacific, annual averages 1995-2000 and 2005-2010

The adolescent fertility rate also varies significantly by region and subregion. The adolescent fertility rate in Asia and the Pacific was 45.2 for 2005-2010, which is less than half of the rate in Africa and almost triple the rate in Europe. In East and North-East Asia the rate has risen from 6.5 in 1995-2000 to 8.0 in 2005-2010. In South-East Asia and the Pacific there have been moderate declines in adolescent fertility of around 5% and 10%, respectively, between 1995-2000 and 2005-2010. South and South-West Asia and North and Central Asia have seen more dramatic declines of more than 25% (for South and South-West Asia the figure was 106 in 1995-2000 and 75 in 2005-2010; for North and Central Asia the figure was 37 in 1995-2000 and 28 in 2005-2010). Afghanistan and Nepal were the only two countries in the region with an adolescent fertility rate exceeding 100 in 2005-2010.

Sex ratios

The child sex ratio, which represents the number of boys per 100 girls, depends on combination of the sex ratio at birth and infant/child mortality rates. In general, more boys are born than girls, yielding a natural sex ratio of 105; however, mortality among boys is generally greater than that of girls, and thus by the age of 20 parity is achieved. In contrast, the child sex ratio in the Asia-Pacific region, 110, is much higher than the natural sex ratio and higher than any other region of the world. In other regions of the world, the sex ratio has remained relatively consistent between 102 and 106, but in Asia and the Pacific it has slowly and steadily risen from 106 in 1990 to 110 in 2010 with high variability across countries. The average for East and North-East Asia, 119, is the highest of all subregions.

Turning to the population sex ratio, which represents the number of males per 100 females, the Asian and Pacific average of 104 is considerably higher than other regions of the world, which hover just below 100. It has not changed over the past two decades; however, the increasing child sex ratio in Asia and the Pacific could translate into an increase in the population sex ratio in the upcoming years. Currently, in South-East Asia and the Pacific the figures are generally close to parity, while in North and Central Asia they are lower than 100 in all countries, under 90 in Armenia (where there has been a large decrease over the past two decades) and Georgia, and as low as 86 in the Russian Federation. In South and South-West Asia and East and North-East Asia (the subregions with the highest populations), the sex ratio in 2010 was at 105 and 106, respectively.

Life expectancy

Currently, life expectancy in the Asia-Pacific region is highly variable, with ranges from 48 (Afghanistan) to 86 (Japan) years for women and 47 (Afghanistan) to 79 (Japan) years for men in 2005-2010.

Figure I.3 – Life expectancy at birth by sex, Asia and the Pacific, annual averages 2005-2010

Figure I.3 – Life expectancy at birth by sex, Asia and the Pacific, annual averages 2005-2010

Within East and North-East Asia and the Pacific, most countries have high life expectancies (over 70 for both men and women) which are lower for men than women. The situation in South- East Asia is somewhat similar, yet with lower figures. In South and South-West Asia the life expectancies are generally lower (many countries below 70 for both men and women) with near parity between men and women. In North and Central Asia, life expectancies range from 69 to 77 for women and 60 to 70 for men.

Population age structure

The demographic changes discussed previously shape population structures. The proportion of children in the total population in the Asia- Pacific region has fallen steadily from 33% in 1990 to 25% in 2010. This decline has been greater than that in Latin America and the Caribbean and considerably greater than that in Africa. Significant variations exist within Asia and the Pacific – in 2010, East and North-East Asia and North and Central Asia were both at approximately 19%; while in the Pacific and in South-East Asia the figures are 24% and 27%, respectively. In South and South-West Asia the figure is a fair deal higher at 31%. Country variations exist across Asia and the Pacific, with the highest proportions being in Afghanistan (46%), Timor-Leste (46%), the Solomon Islands (40%), Papua New Guinea (39%) and Vanuatu (38%).

Figure I.4 – Index of elderly proportion, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 to 2010

Figure I.4 – Index of elderly proportion, Asia-Pacific subregions, 1990 to 2010

The proportion of elderly (aged 65 and above) has been steadily increasing (at a similar rate to that in Latin America and the Caribbean) going from 5.3% in 1990 to 7.0% in 2010. In Africa the proportion was 3.5% with relatively little change over time. The figures in East and North-East Asia are 9.5%, in North and Central Asia, 10% and in the Pacific, 11%; while in South-East Asia and South and South-West Asia, the figures are 5.6% and 4.9%, respectively. With regard to changes over time, the figure for East and North-East Asia has risen most rapidly. In many of the countries of that subregion and to a certain extent those in others, especially in South-East Asia, population ageing is an increasingly relevant issue.

The challenge of population ageing in Asia and the Pacific

Recent decades have yielded considerable transformations in the population structure in Asia and the Pacific owing to changes in birth and death rates in the region. Projections based on recent trends foretell that issues of population ageing will become increasingly important, with significant and pervasive social, economic and political implications. Hence, planning for the future merits priority consideration of the ageing of societies.

The number of older persons (age 65 and above) in the region is estimated to increase threefold, from 420 million in 2010 to almost 1.3 billion by 2050, by which time older persons are expected to constitute almost 25% of the total regional population.1 The estimated 2050 rate is greater than that of Japan in 2010 (23%). Indeed, in Japan, along with China and other countries in East and North-East Asia, one third of the population is expected to be over the age of 60 years by 2050.

Many factors related to population ageing present challenges to Governments and other stakeholders across Asia and the Pacific. They heighten the need to empower older persons and promote their rights, so they can increasingly participate in social, economic and political fields. National capacities related to the needs of older persons need enhancement, including health services. Awareness of issues of concern to older persons is critical, such as improving accessibility in the built environment, and tapping into their experience for the benefit of society, via employment and other modes of engagement.

Population ageing has a significant gender dimension. The proportion of women increases greatly in the older age groups, especially so among the “oldest of the old”, those aged 80 years and above. Older women are generally more vulnerable to discrimination, abuse, poverty and social isolation than older men. Hence, the impacts of ageing on older women warrant particular attention.

Responses to population ageing should account for changing family structures that have left numerous older persons without traditional forms of support. Migration, at both the national and international levels, has contributed to such changes. Governments are consequently under pressure to develop social protection systems to address the income insecurity that many older persons face, especially since only approximately 30% of older persons in Asian and Pacific developing countries receive a pension of some form.

Appropriate policies and programmes are required to address (a) the needs of older persons and (b) the societywide ramifications of an ageing population – the requisite socio-economic adjustments to accommodate transition to an ageing society.


1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision (population database). Accessible at http://esa.un.org/unpp.  
 
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Table I.1 Population
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Table I.2 Births and deaths
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Table I.3 Fertility
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Table I.4 Sex ratios

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Table I.5 Life expectancy
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Table I.6 Children and the elderly
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