The Asia-Pacific region is undergoing profound and rapid population changes. All countries in Asia and the Pacific are in the process of ageing at an unprecedented pace, although the timing and pace of this transition varies across the region.

In 2016, approximately 12.4 per cent of the population in the region was 60 years or older, but this is projected to increase to more than a quarter – or 1.3 billion - people by 2050.

Globally, the older population in less developed regions is growing faster than in the more developed regions. Therefore, older persons will be increasingly concentrated in the less developed regions of the world. By 2050, nearly 8 in 10 of the world’s older population will live in the less developed regions.  This is especially pertinent for a region such as Asia and the Pacific, which comprises some of the wealthiest nations as well as some of the poorer countries in the world.

The pace of ageing is also more rapid in the developing countries in the Asian and Pacific region and at a much earlier stage of development compared to developed countries, giving them limited time and opportunity to adjust to a needs of an aged society. For example, France and Sweden took 115 years and 85 years respectively to move from an ageing to an aged society, whereas China is expected to make the transition in 25 years, Singapore and Thailand in 22 years and Viet Nam in only 19 years.

Population ageing will lead to profound economic and social changes and will require forward-looking policies and sound social protection systems to allow for sustainable development in ageing societies. 

The demographic transition towards an ageing society in the Asia-Pacific region has critical social, economic and political consequences. The old age support ratio, or the number of persons aged 15 to 64 years potentially economically supporting each person aged 65 years or over is a useful signifier of this trend. The ratio of people at working-age to older persons is decreasing sharply. It is projected that the old age support ratio will decrease by about 60 per cent, from 8.4 workers for every older adult currently, to 3.4 to one by 2050 in the Asia-Pacific region. The greatest drop is seen in the South-East Asia sub-region from 11.1 workers per older person currently, to 4.2 to one by 2050, which also corresponds with the largest projected increase in the proportion of older persons in this sub-region.

                 Man playing chess, Bangkok, Thailand
                                           Photo credit: UN ESCAP

The number of people aged 80 years or over, in the region is also showing a dramatic upward trend. The proportion of the oldest old in the region in the total population 2016 was 1.5 per cent of the population amounting to 68 million people, which is 53 per cent of the global population over 80 years old. This proportion is expected to rise to 5 per cent of the population totaling 258 million people by 2050. Asia-Pacific would have 59 per cent of the world population over 80 years of age compared to 53 per cent at present. This has serious implications for provision of appropriate health care and long term care, as well as income security.The reduction of the support ratio has important implications for income security of older persons. Traditional systems rely on the family to support their ageing parents – both financially as well as providing care for those who need it. However, with smaller families, there will be fewer family members in working age to shoulder this responsibility. Declining support ratios also have implications on existing social security schemes, particularly pay-as-you-go pension systems, under which the contributions paid by current workers support the pensions of retirees.