Many countries in the Asian and Pacific region are in the middle or advanced stages of a demographic transition from high fertility and high mortality levels to low fertility and low mortality levels. As a result, the age structure is changing. Younger people in economically productive age ranges and older people are forming larger shares of the population. Thus, the demographic transition is both an opportunity and looming challenge for countries in the region.
There are 2.9 billion people living in Asia and the Pacific in the economically productive age band between 15 and 64 years.
In 2012, there were 4.3 billion people living in the region, which is equal to 60 per cent of the global total of 7.1 billion people. More than 750 million of the region’s population are young women and men aged 15 to 24 years, nearly half (45 per cent) of whom live in South and South- West Asia. The number of young people and their percentage of the total population have been increasing for over 60 years, but the forecast was for these to have peaked in 2010, and to decline in coming years.
Population pyramid of the Asian and Pacific region in 1950, 2012 and 2050
The growth of the youth population is part of a larger shift in the age structure of the population caused by fewer births and deaths. The result is a short-term “demographic dividend,” where a higher share of the population is of an economically productive age and a lower share is in the young and old age dependency groups, which are less economically active. To maximize this window of opportunity, investments are required in the education of young people, particularly women, in health and in employment. This investment is important as the age structure shifts towards an ageing, less economically productive population that will require greater social care. Several countries and areas in the region, including Hong Kong, China; the Republic of Korea and Singapore, serve as examples of how to successfully translate an advantageous age structure into economic and social growth.
Box A.1-1 Unmet need for modern contraception
Placing universal access to reproductive health at the cornerstone of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Developmenta and including it as target 5.B of the Millennium Development Goals underline the key relationship between reproductive health and development. Progress towards achieving universal access to reproductive health is measured through several indicators, including the unmet need for family planning.
Unmet need for family planning is defined as the percentage of women who are fertile, sexually active and not using any form of contraception, who report not wanting any more children or wanting to delay the next child. This indicator measures the gap between women’s reproductive intentions and their contraceptive behaviour, and is captured using data gathered in surveys such as demographic and health surveys.
The main challenge that remains in Asia and the Pacific is providing underserved populations with sexual and reproductive health services. These include women residing in rural and remote areas, as well as adolescents and youth, particularly where there is a young age of marriage and high gender inequality, such as some countries in South and South-West Asia.
Data from demographic and health surveys provide information on the unmet need for family planning among married women by age, place of residence, education and household wealth. Based on demographic and health surveys conducted since 2005, the unmet need for family planning is higher in rural areas than in urban areas for all countries in the region, and frequently the highest for women 15-19 years of age.
Despite impressive increases in the use of contraception, over 132 million women in the region aged 15-49 years continue to face an unmet need for modern contraceptive methods. Addressing disparities in the unmet need for family planning and providing sexual and reproductive health services may reduce maternal deaths in South Asiab and South-East Asia by 75 per cent.
Table.Unmet need for family planning among married women 15-49 years of age by residence and age, selected Asian and Pacific countries, 2005-2011
Age in years (%)
Source:Measure DHS STATCompiler database. Available from www.statcompiler.com (accessed 4 July 2013). Residence (%) Age in years (%)
Sources: United Nations, Millennium Indicators Database. Available from http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg (accessed 3 July 2013); Susheela Singh and Jacqueline E. Darroch, Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services – Estimates for 2012 (New York, Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund, 2012).
aHeld in Cairo from 5 to 13 September 1994. For the Programme of Action, see A/CONF.171/13/Rev.1.
b South Asia refers to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The total fertility rate of the Asian and Pacific region is at the population replacement level of 2.1 births per woman over her lifetime.
Women in the region have on average 2.1 children by the end of their childbearing years, a considerable decline from the 3.1 children women had on average in 1990.
Fertility has decreased mainly due to better access to reproductive health services, primarily contraception, and women being older when they marry for the first time. Countries where adolescents and younger people are excluded from reproductive health services continue to have high adolescent fertility rates. Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have the highest adolescent fertility rates in the region, at approximately double the global average of 49 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years. Rates in these countries, however, have declined by nearly half from 1990-1995 levels.
Despite the challenges to achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health in the region, fertility rates are predicted to continue their decline in coming years. However, sustained total fertility rates below replacement (that is, less than 2.1) can result in population decline.
Figure A.1-2 Adolescent fertility rate, Asia and the Pacific, annual average 1990-1995 and 2005-2010
Asia and the Pacific has some of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Women in Asia and the Pacific live longer than men, just as they do in the rest of the world. In Australia and Hong Kong, China, the life expectancy of both males and females born in 2012 exceeds 80 years, and there are eight other countries or areas in the region where the life expectancy for women exceeds 80 years, including the Pacific island of Guam and the developing countries of Brunei Darussalam and Viet Nam.
Women tend to live longer than men for many reasons, including biological differences that result in their immune systems ageing more slowly and the later onset of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. However, general increases in life expectancy for both men and women in Asia and the Pacific were initially caused by reductions in infant and child mortality. From 1990 to 2010 alone, the infant mortality rate for the region declined 45 per cent, from 60 to 33 deaths per 1,000 births. Improvements in health care have also increased life expectancy, and a major challenge in the region will be ensuring that a larger elderly population, who are living longer than ever before, are able to enjoy good health.
Male life expectancies in Asian and Pacific countries, 2012
Female life expectancies in Asian and Pacific countries, 2012
The speed at which the population of Asia and the Pacific is ageing is unprecedented.
As a result of decreasing fertility rates and increasing longevity, the proportion of older people in the Asian and Pacific population is increasing rapidly.
Figure A.1-4 Rate of population ageing for Asian and Pacific countries with the lowest and highest percentage of elderly people
There are important subregional differences in the pace of ageing, but all countries in Asia and the Pacific are affected. Over the next 40 years, the number of people over 65 years of age will nearly treble from approximately 300 million in 2012 to 900 million in 2050, and their share of the total population will increase from 8 per cent to 18 per cent. Even in Japan, the country in the region with the largest share of its population aged over 65 years, further ageing is expected from 24 per cent in 2012 to 37 per cent in 2050. Many countries commonly perceived as “young” countries are also ageing. In 2012, only 5 per cent of the population of India was aged 65 years or older, but by 2050, this figure is expected to have risen to 13 per cent. Similarly, the population aged 65 years or older in the Philippines is expected to more than double from 4 per cent in 2012 to 9 per cent in 2050.
Box A.1-2 Intergenerational transfers and the National Transfer Accounts project
The Asian and Pacific region is witnessing
unprecedented population ageing. This shift in the age
structure of the population requires the right mix of
economic and social policies to address the challenges
and to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
As populations age, the balance between the number of
workers and the number of economically inactive
persons in the economy shifts. While population data
on changing age structures provide an important input
to evidence-informed policymaking for economic
development, it does not provide an account of how
economic flows between one age group to another
change as a response to population ageing. This
information is key as intergenerational transfers are
necessary to the well-being of some of the most
vulnerable of the population—children and older
persons—and ensure that future generations are better
off than our own.
Andrew Mason and Ronald Lee (2011) have defined the
generational economy as: (a) the social institutions and
economic mechanisms used by each generation or age
group to produce, consume, share and save resources;
(b) the economic flows across generations or age groups
that characterize the generational economy; (c) explicit
and implicit contracts that govern intergenerational
flows; and (d) the intergenerational distribution of
income or consumption that results from the foregoing.
The National Transfer Accounts project represents a
collaborative effort across 41 countries, 10 of which are
in Asia and the Pacific, to measure and analyse at the
aggregate level the reallocations of economic resources
from one age group to another. The accounts measure
how each age group produces, consumes, shares, and
saves resources. By using data based on age-disaggregated
national accounts and estimates of private transfers,
national transfer accounts provide valuable information
to explore the effect of population size, growth and
shifting age structures the economics of ageing.
Sources:Ronald Lee and Andrew Mason, Population Aging and the Generational Economy: A Global Perspective (Cheltenham, Gloucestershire,
United Kingdom and Northampton, Massachusetts, United States, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2011); United Nations, Population Division,
Department of Economic and Social Affairs, National Transfer Accounts Manual: Measuring and analysing the generational economy (New York,
United Nations, 2013). E.13.XIII.6.
In the region, the sex-ratio imbalances
in favour of men are some of the highest
in the world.
Several countries in the region have sex-ratio
imbalances that are skewed towards males. The
global average biological sex ratio at birth is 105
boys for every 100 girls, but the number tends
to reach roughly 100 by age 20 due to higher
mortality among boys. However, some countries
have an unnaturally high sex-ratio imbalance at
birth, which in turn leads to imbalances in the
sex ratio among children 14 years of age or under.
The causes of sex-ratio imbalances are still
debated but include results of gender inequality,
such as prenatal sex selection and higher than
expected mortality among girls.
In 2012, there were 110 boys aged 14 years or
under for every 100 girls aged 14 years or under
in Asia and the Pacific. The five countries with
the highest sex-ratio imbalances in the region
were Armenia (133), China (116), Azerbaijan
(115), Georgia (112) and India (111).
This imbalance has led to an increase in
migration for marriage in the region but the full
range of longer term effects has yet to be fully
Asia-Pacific Population Journal. Vol. 27, No. 1 (June 2012). ST/ESCAP/2651.
Bloom, David E., David Canning and Jaypee Sevilla. The Demographic Dividend: A New Perspective
on the Economic Consequences of Population Change (RAND, 2003).
Guilmoto, Christophe. The sex ratio transition in Asia. Population and Development Review, vol. 35,
No. 3 (September 2009), pp. 519-549.
Population (thousands, percentage change per
annum) De facto midyear population, covering all
residents, regardless of legal status or citizenship,
except for refugees not permanently settled in the
country of asylum. Aggregate calculations: Sum
of individual country values (thousands);
weighted averages using population (WPP2012)
as weight (percentage change per annum).
Missing data are not imputed.
Crude birth and death rates (per 1,000
population) Birth: The number of births during a given
period divided by the total number of personyears
lived by the population during that period
(person-years for a calendar year is approximated
as the midyear population). Death: The number
of deaths occurring during a period divided by
the person-years for that period. Aggregate calculations: Weighted averages using population
(WPP2012) as weight. Missing data are not
Fertility rate (live births per woman) The average number of live births per woman.
This represents the number of live births
a woman will have by the end of her reproductive
period assuming the current prevailing agespecific
fertility rates continue throughout her
childbearing life. Indicator calculations: Number of births divided by the number of
women. Aggregate calculations: Weighted
averages using women aged 15-49 years
(WPP2012) as weight. Missing data are not
Adolescent fertility rate (live births per 1,000
women aged 15-19) The average number of births a woman
15-19 years of age will experience. Indicator
calculations: The number of live births to
women aged 15-19 years divided by the number
of women in the same age group. Aggregate calculations: Weighted averages using women
aged 15-19 years (WPP2012) as weight. Missing
data are not imputed.
Population and child sex ratios (males or boys
per 100 females or girls) Population: The ratio of the number of males to
females expressed per 100. Child: The ratio of
boys aged 0-14 years to girls aged 0-14 years,
expressed per 100. Indicator calculations: Male
or boy population divided by female or girl
population. Aggregate calculations: Sum of
individual country values for the male or boy
population divided by the sum of individual
country values for the female or girl population.
Missing data are not imputed.
Child and elderly population (percentage of
population) Children: Children aged 0-14 years. Elderly:
People aged 65 years or older. Indicator
calculations: The percentage of the child or
elderly population of the total population.
Aggregate calculations: Sum of individual
country values for the child or elderly population
divided by sum of the individual country
values for the total population. Missing data
are not imputed.
Life expectancy at birth: females and males
(years) The number of years a newborn infant would live
if prevailing patterns of age-specific mortality
rates at the time of birth were to stay the same
throughout the child’s life. Missing data are not
Source of population data: WPP2012.
Estimated demographic trends are projections
based on censuses, administrative data and
surveys provided by countries through an annual
questionnaire. Population data from all sources
are evaluated by the United Nations for
completeness, accuracy and consistency. Data
obtained: 14 June 2013.