What's on Asia’s Mind--and What Should Be on Ours

What's on Asia’s Mind--and What Should Be on Ours

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In 2011, Asia will be at the top of our political agenda. Think of the growing impact of Asian economies on ours – especially the growth of  China and India – or of the U.S.-Korea trade agreement which President Obama expects to be ratified next year.  2011 is also the year when the U.S. assumes the leadership of the 21-nation Asia Pacific Economic Council (APEC). Throughout the year, APEC events will take place across America.

As we prepare for this tour, American political leaders might become more sensitive to the topic of the economic impact of  aging populations, an issue that we share with most APEC nations.  Consider the language in a new report jointly sponsored by the Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese and American National Academies of Science:

“Perhaps nowhere in the world is this demographic transition as stark as in parts of Asia, where rapid population aging is occurring at the same time as a dramatic economic transformation. There is a clear need to enhance our understanding of these transformations … how the changes will influence long-standing societal and familial arrangements that have traditionally been a vital part of the economic support… in the region.”

In early December, the Chinese Academy hosted an international conference on aging, and there’s another one planned for mid-March in New Delhi. The demographic challenges throughout Asia are compounded by the fact that many people are “growing old before growing rich,” and the social safety nets common in America’s OECD counterparts tend to be nonexistent or inadequate to deal with the exploding demand. As an illustration, the age 65 and over segment of the population will more than triple in China, India, and Indonesia – and more than double in Japan – between 2000 and 2050, according to U.N. data. But it is the consequences of the relatively rapid pace of the demographic shift that the science academies are exploring here. In the U.S., we have been easing into the new reality: It will take roughly 70 years for the percentage of the population age 65 and older to rise from 7 percent to 14 percent. In China, India, and Indonesia, a doubling of that segment will take only about 25 years.  
Amid the urgency of today’s  government debt management, and the start of our 2012 presidential campaign, Americans might also find some time in 2011 to address the topic of aging populations—because that’s certainly what the 20 other APEC governments will have on their agenda.   

Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations, and Executive Director of The Global Coalition on Aging.

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Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.