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East Asia aging faster than any other region in history

Staff writer |
East Asia is aging faster than any other region in history, and some economies could lose as much as 15% of their working-age population by 2040, according to a World Bank report.

The report, Live Long and Prosper: Aging in East Asia and Pacific, finds that 36 percent of the world’s population ages 65 and over, or 211 million people, live in East Asia, the largest share among all regions.

By 2040, the graying of the population could shrink the number of working-age adults by more than 15 percent in Korea and more than 10 percent in China, Thailand and Japan. In China alone, that would translate into a net loss of 90 million workers.

The rapid pace and sheer scale of aging in East Asia raises policy challenges, economic and fiscal pressures, and social risks.

Without reforms, for example, pension spending in the region is projected to increase by eight to 10 percent of gross domestic product by 2070.

Meanwhile, most East Asian health systems aren’t prepared for age-related spending, as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses could account for 85 percent of all disease burdens by 2030.

In addition, today’s older population is less likely than previous generations to have adequate family support.

Rapid aging in East Asia is partly a result of the region’s breakneck pace of economic development in recent decades, the report says.

Higher incomes and better education have led to steady increases in life expectancy, and have been accompanied by sharp declines in fertility rates, with a growing number of countries now well below replacement levels.

As a result, by 2060, one in five of the oldest countries in the world will be in East Asia, compared with just one in 25 in 2010.

The pace of aging varies across countries. Richer countries, such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea, are “advanced agers,” with 14 percent or more of their population already at least 65 years old.

In younger and poorer countries, including Cambodia, Laos and Papua New Guinea, only four percent of their population is older than 65, but they will begin to age rapidly in 20 to 30 years.

Developing middle-income countries, such as China, Thailand and Vietnam, are already aging quickly and face some of the most pressing challenges in managing aging.

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