Population Ageing in East and North-East Asia

“Population ageing” refers to the shift in the age structure of a population, where the proportion of older persons becomes larger and that of younger persons becomes smaller. It is happening globally, to both developed and developing countries.


However, population ageing in East and North-East Asia (ENEA) is particularly notable as the subregion is home to a high proportion of elders in the world. In 2015, older persons (65 years and over) living in the six ENEA countries (China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea, and the Russian Federation) accounted for 32% of all the older persons living in the world. Within Asia, ENEA elders accounted for 56%. 


Furthermore, the ENEA subregion encompasses countries with one of the lowest fertility rates (TFR) in the world (Republic of Korea and Japan), the most aged country in the world (Japan), the fastest ageing country in the world (Republic of Korea), and the most aged country in the world by 2060 (Republic of Korea, according to the projection).


The speed of ageing in ENEA is indeed remarkable. For comparison, the proportion of older persons (aged 65 and over) in France shifted from 7% of the total population to 20% in about 150 years, while Japan experienced the same shift in just 40 years, and China and the Republic of Korea are estimated to undergo the same transition in only 35 and 30 years respectively.


In addition, the number of older persons in ENEA will bulge in the years to come – more than 300 million older persons in 2040 – due mainly to the large population size of China (see the graph below).


In sum, the ENEA subregion is currently undergoing population ageing at an unprecedented speed and scale in human history.


Population ageing is a cause for celebration, as nutrition and health improved and more and more persons are living until old age. While population ageing itself is not a problem, it has many economic and social ramifications, if a society is not prepared for the demographic shift. The following is a non-exhaustive list of current and upcoming challenges.


Challenges related to population ageing in East and North-East Asia


  • Breakdown of traditional family structure and values, and decreasing availability of family members to care for the aged
  • Lack of long-term care for older persons, including lack of community-based and home-based care
  • Lack of enabling environment for “ageing in place”, even though many older persons are said to prefer living in the familiar environment of their own home as they age
  • Increase in elderly households, where an older person cares for his/her aged spouse, or an older widow/widower lives alone
  • Social isolation of older persons, including lack of opportunities for social and economic participation by older persons
  • Increase in older persons affected by dementia
  • Neglect, abuse and violence against older persons (physical, psychological, emotional, financial) by family members or at care institutions
  • High suicide rate of older persons
  • Increased health care cost, borne by older persons, their families, and society
  • Poverty in old age
  • Feminization of ageing and lack of gender perspectives in policies and practice
  • Heightened vulnerability of older persons in emergency situations, such as natural disasters
  • Lack of robust social protection measures, including health insurance and sustainable pension systems
  • Increasing old-age dependency ratio
  • Age discrimination in society
  • Labour market policy challenges, including how to leverage people’s knowledge, skills and productivity into old age
  • Lack of age-friendly living environment (transportation, urban design, product design, building and housing design, information accessibility and other assistive technologies and devices, etc)
  • Rural-urban discrepancy in living conditions and service accessibility for older persons
  • Negative image of ageing, which needs to be changed to a positive one in recognition of the wisdom, dignity, productivity and other important contributions of older persons


Solutions and Opportunities


The many challenges we have are also opportunities to make our societies more inclusive, sustainable and prosperous.  


Older persons have been making social, cultural, economic and political contributions to society in multiple ways, as carers and educators of younger generations, keepers of traditions, leaders of communities, role models, and so on.


There are also various initiatives emerging from the subregion that contribute to building sustainable and prosperous ageing societies in East and North-East Asia. They are undertaken by a wide range of actors – governments, including local governments, NGOs, academia, private sector, older persons themselves and other citizens of all ages – and are implemented at various levels of society in various scales.


These initiatives can be viewed in the Database of Initiatives on this knowledge-sharing platform. Users of this knowledge-sharing platform are invited to browse through the searchable Database and get a glimpse of the existing initiatives. If you know of other initiatives not yet listed in the database, please use the “Contact us” webform to let us know.




Related publications by UN entities and other international organizations


DESA - Division for Social Policy and Development

Neglect, Abuse and Violence Against Older Women, DESA - Division for Social Policy and Development, 2013

Current Status of the Social Situation, Well-Being, Participation in Development and Rights of Older Persons Worldwide, DESA - Division for Social Policy and Development, 2011

Regional Dimensions of the Ageing Situation, DESA - Division for Social Policy and Development, 2008

World Economic and Social Survey 2007, Development in an Ageing World, DESA - Division for Social Policy and Development, 2007



DESA - Population Division

World Population Ageing Report 2013, DESA - Population Division, 2013

Population Ageing and Development 2012 Wall Chart, DESA - Population Division, 2012

Living Arrangements of Older People Around the World, DESA - Population Division, 2005



World Health Organization (WHO)

World report on ageing and Health, WHO, 2015

Dementia: a public health priority, WHO, 2012

Good health adds life to years, Global brief for World Health Day 2012, WHO, 2012

Global health and ageing, WHO, 2011

Women and health: today's evidence tomorrow's agenda, WHO, 2009

Discussing screening for elder abuse at primary health care level, WHO, 2008

Older persons in emergencies: An active ageing perspective, WHO, 2008

Older persons in emergencies: Considerations for action and policy development, WHO, 2008

Women, ageing and health: A framework for action Focus on gender, WHO, 2007

Global age-friendly cities: a guide, WHO, 2007

Towards age-friendly primary health care, WHO, 2004

Active ageing: a policy framework, WHO, 2002



United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Ageing in the Twenty-First Century, UNFPA, 2012

Family Support Networks and Population Ageing, UNFPA, 2010

Population Ageing in East and South-East Asia: Current Situation and Emerging Challenges, UNFPA, 2006



United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

Living Longer: Ageing, Development and Social Protection, UNRISD, 2004




Aging, Economic Growth, and Old-Age Security in Asia, ADB, 2012

Social Protection for Older Persons: Social Pensions in Asia, ADB, 2012

Reducing Disparities and Enhancing Sustainability in Asian Pension Systems, ADB, 2012

Pension Systems in East and Southeast Asia: Promoting Fairness and Sustainability, ADB, 2012

Population, Wealth, and Economic Growth in the Asia and Pacific Region, ADB, 2011

Why Does Population Aging Matter So Much for Asia? Population Aging, Economic Growth, and Economic Security in Asia, ADB, 2011

Population Aging and Aggregate Consumption in Developing Asia, ADB, 2011

Impact of Population Aging on Asia's Future Growth, ADB, 2011

Pension Systems and Old-Age Income Support in East and Southeast Asia: Overview and Reform Direction, ADB, 2011

Aging in Asia: Trends, Impacts and Responses, ADB, 2009

Ageing Asia's Looming Pension Crisis, ADB, 2009




A Good Life in Old Age? Monitoring and Improving Quality in Long-term Care, OECD, 2013



World Bank

Live long and prosper: Aging in East Asia and Pacific, World Bank, 2016