• | 3:06 pm

ADB flags risks, urges reforms as Asia ages rapidly

Economies can reap a ‘silver dividend’ in the form of additional productivity from older people, ADB report says

ADB flags risks, urges reforms as Asia ages rapidly
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

A host of risks including low pension coverage, health woes, social isolation, and limited access to essential services threatens the well-being of rapidly aging populations in developing Asia, including India, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a report while urging comprehensive policy reforms to address the challenges.

While longer lifespans reflect the region’s development success, comprehensive policy reforms are urgently needed to support the welfare of older people, the ADB’s ‘Aging Well in Asia: Asian Development Policy Report’ said.

The number of people aged 60 and above in developing Asia and the Pacific is set to nearly double by 2050 to 1.2 billion—or about a quarter of the total population—significantly increasing the need for pension and welfare programs as well as health care services, the study said.

At the same time, economies have an opportunity to reap a “silver dividend” in the form of additional productivity from older people, which could boost gross domestic product (GDP) in the region by 0.9% on average, it added.

In India, the study pointed out, if this untapped work capacity is utilized, it could lead to an increase in GDP of about 1.5%, similar to the Republic of Korea.

Comprehensive aging policies can ensure a healthy and productive older population offering a large silver dividend and other economic and social contributions.

“Asia and the Pacific’s rapid development is a success story, but it’s also fueling a huge demographic shift, and the pressure is rising,” said ADB chief economist Albert Park.

“Governments need to prepare now if they’re going to be able to help hundreds of millions of people in the region age well. Policies should support lifetime investment in health, education, skills, and financial preparedness for retirement. Family and social ties are also important to foster healthy and productive populations of older people and maximize their contribution to society,” Park added.

According to the report, 40% of people over age 60 in Asia and the Pacific lack access to any form of pension—with women disproportionately affected, as they are more likely to do unpaid domestic work. As a result, many older people in the region have no choice but to work well beyond retirement age to survive. Among those still working at age 65 or older, 94% work in the informal sector, which typically doesn’t provide basic labor protections or pension benefits.

Physical and mental health challenges also increase with age. Around 60% of older people in Asia and the Pacific do not attend or receive regular health checks, while 31% report depressive symptoms owing to illness, social isolation, and economic insecurity. Older women in the region are also more likely than older men to suffer from ill health, from depression to diabetes and hypertension.

The report recommends a wide range of policy measures to support healthy and economically secure aging. Among these are government-assisted health insurance and pension plans, improved health infrastructure, and free annual check-ups and lifestyle evaluations.

India has the lowest health insurance coverage among older people at 21%, the study noted.

Older women in India will see the greatest increase in life expectancy from 2022 to 2050 at 6.4 years when compared with 5.7 years for men.

Policy makers should aim for universal health care coverage, while basic labor protections should be extended to older informal workers, according to the report.

By making mandatory retirement ages more flexible, helping older people stay healthy, and providing them with suitable work opportunities as well as lifelong learning and skills development, economies in the region can help older people stay productive longer.

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