Asia Frets over Aging Population ; the Global Implications Include a Probable Rise in Manufactured Goods' Cost

By Wassener, Bettina | International New York Times, January 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

Asia Frets over Aging Population ; the Global Implications Include a Probable Rise in Manufactured Goods' Cost


Wassener, Bettina, International New York Times


By 2030, according to United Nations projections, 565 million Asians will be aged 65 years or older, up from about 300 million now. By 2050, that number will soar to 900 million, about one in every six Asians.

When Ankur Gupta tells people what he does for a living, he often gets surprised looks. Mr. Gupta works in India, but instead of catering to the nation's youthful consumers with baby food or toys, he looks after a portfolio of retirement homes for Ashiana Housing, a property company.

"Here I am, in one of the youngest societies of the world, selling retirement homes to seniors -- no wonder people sometimes think I must be crazy," Mr. Gupta said.

Ashiana Housing's three retirement homes in India each have badminton courts, jogging tracks and gardens, as well as a meditation hall and temple. Their residents are upper-middle-class Indians -- retired businessmen, doctors and army officers. Two more homes already are in the pipeline as Mr. Gupta and his colleagues bet on rising demand from a richer and older India. The median age of the country's 1.2 billion residents is just under 27 years, a decade younger than in the United States and nearly two decades younger than in Germany.

But India, like much of Asia, is aging rapidly, and only slowly waking up to that fact. By 2030, according to United Nations projections, 565 million Asians will be aged 65 years or older -- up from about 300 million now. By 2050, that number will soar to 900 million -- about one in every six Asians. Those aged 80 or above will account for 4.3 percent of the Asian population, more than three times the number they represent today.

"People haven't fully realized the speed with which this demographic turn is approaching," said Frederic Neumann, a co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC in Hong Kong. Asia's "demographic dividend," the flood of young workers that helped drive the region's rapid growth in recent decades, is coming to an end, Mr. Neumann said.

As business and political leaders gather in Davos, Switzerland, much of the conversation about Asia will focus on the immediate challenges facing the region: China's economic overhaul; the upcoming elections in India, Indonesia and Thailand; Japan's efforts to ramp up growth; and the impact of the United States Federal Reserve's moves to dial back its support of the American economy.

But it is Asia's rapid aging that is "perhaps the single biggest economic and social obstacle" confronting its future, said Donghyun Park, a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila. "Even in younger countries, the share of the elderly is rising -- the demographics of the region will change beyond recognition over the next few decades."

Asia's aging has big implications globally. It ultimately means fewer workers and higher wages, adding to the cost of goods manufactured in Asia. And it could mean less dynamic growth in a region that is increasingly important to the world economy.

Throughout the region, companies, governments and ordinary citizens aim to profit from or prevent the aging trend.

Some of the most headline-grabbing responses have been government- sponsored, like China's revision of its one-child policy. …

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