Rapidly ageing East Asia facing health and workplace challenges

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China. Photo: Steve Harris / World Bank

Developing countries in East Asia are at risk of getting old before they get rich, a new study by the World Bank warns.

As the region is ageing faster than any other in history, some of its middle-income and wealthier economies could lose as much as 15 per cent of their working-age population by 2040.

East Asia is home to 211 million people over the age of 65, or nearly 40 per cent of the global total of people in this age group.

Dianne Penn reports.

The report is entitled Live Long and Prosper: Aging in East Asia and Pacific.

But the rapid pace and sheer scale of ageing there is raising policy and economic challenges, according to the World Bank.

Over the next 25 years, countries such as Korea, China, Thailand and Japan could see their pool of working-age adults decrease by more than 10 per cent in some cases, or even more than 15 per cent in others.

In China, that translates to a net loss of 90 million workers.

The World Bank says this will put pressure on pension spending in the region. It

is expected to increase by eight to 10 per cent by 2070.

Health systems are also unprepared for age-related spending as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses rise to a projected 85 per cent of disease burden by 2030.

Furthermore, older adults today are less likely to have adequate family support when compared with previous generations.

The report recommends so-called "womb-to-tomb" policies to address these concerns.

They include implementing childcare reforms to encourage more women to enter the work force.

Countries are also being urged to attract young immigrants, while pension schemes might consider gradually increasing the retirement age.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 1'26"

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