Challenges and opportunities
Population ageing in Asia and the Pacific is occurring at an unprecedented pace, due to rapid decreases in fertility rates and increases in life expectancy. The age group of older persons, defined as those 60 years or older, is the only age cohort which is still growing in Asia and the Pacific. In 2019, it is estimated that 60.1 per cent of the world’s older population reside in the Asia-Pacific region, while the region makes up 59.4 per cent of the world’s total population. The number of older persons is expected to increase from an estimate of 548 million in 2019 to nearly 1.3 billion by 2050. By then, one in four people in the region is expected to be over 60 years old. The number of older women is growing even more rapidly. While in 2019, 52.9 per cent of the older population in Asia and the Pacific will be women, in 2050, it will be 53.2 per cent.
Older persons actively contribute to economies and societies: many of them are still active participants in the labour force, whether formally or informally, and they are net providers of care to children in the family or other older persons. However, older persons are also at risk of falling into poverty and social exclusion, often lacking access to adequate resources, services and participation. Age-based discrimination and low mandatory retirement ages pose challenges to remaining active in working life and related benefits, and being able to accrue adequate pension benefits. Gender inequality and discrimination against women throughout the life cycle are often perpetuated into old age, posting women at an even higher risk of poverty. With weak social protection systems, rural-to-urban migration and changing family structures, many older persons, mostly women, are left without secure sources of income.
Providing access to healthcare, including long-term care, is another key challenge in ageing societies. Non-communicable diseases typically increase in ageing societies. Especially in countries where healthcare is mainly financed by out-of-pocket expenditure by private households, the increasing health burden in older ages causes financial strains for households with older persons and form a risk of falling into poverty. Moreover, health systems are often not equipped to the adequately address chronic conditions experienced by older persons. Health facilities are often targeted towards child and reproductive health and often do not meet the needs of older persons.
The demographic transition towards ageing societies has deep social, economic and political implications, but, if adequately addressed, can lead to a second demographic dividend. In the future, economic growth will have to be generated with smaller working-age populations. Rising old-age dependency ratios mean fewer workers to support growing numbers of older persons. Asia and the Pacific needs to act fast to prepare for and later benefit from the opportunities of future ageing societies.
Since the adoption of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) by the General Assembly in 2002, the international community has increasingly paid attention to the situation of older persons. There is also growing recognition of policies and legal frameworks that safeguard the fundamental rights of older persons to live dignified, independent and healthy lives, though various stakeholders call for more concerted action.
ESCAP’s work to support member States for an ageing society is guided by MIPAA and the outcomes of its periodic reviews. As a regional commission of the United Nations secretariat, ESCAP is mandated to conduct regular reviews and appraisals of the Plan of Action and supports member States in its implementation. In the most recent review which took place in 2017, member States agreed on a series of priority actions for the further implementation of the Plan of Action.
ESCAP aims to strengthen regional cooperation and enhance government capacity to design and implement policy measures that empower older persons, promote and protect their rights, and facilitate social and economic adjustments to respond to the rapid demographic transition. This includes advocating for strengthened social protection and enhanced health care, 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.
ESCAP provides research products on various aspects of population ageing as well as technical cooperation in implementing policies to support countries in the transition to ageing societies.