Global Navigation Element.

Spring 2011 Vol. 11 Number 1

Table of Contents


Yan Shen from Peking University responding to questions during the Aging in Asia conference held in Beijing, Dec. 8-10, 2010, photo by Robert Hauser

An Aging Asia

Report and Conferences Explore Challenges Ahead

W hile the surging economies of China and India have increasingly drawn the world's eyes toward Asia, another growth trend in the region has gotten less attention: the escalating size of the elderly population. Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of those 65 and older is projected to more than triple in China, India, and Indonesia, and more than double in Japan.

Responding to the social and economic challenges raised by this aging trend will be among the toughest tasks facing Asian governments in the first half of the 21st century, says a new report by five science academies from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the U.S. To respond effectively, policymakers will need to know more about the needs and resources of their aging populations -- a body of knowledge that is currently underdeveloped in Asia.

In particular, the report calls for more research to shed light on how changing roles in the family are affecting the care, labor-force participation, and health status of elderly people. Studies should also examine how two other trends sweeping through Asia -- large-scale migrations from rural areas to urban ones, and rapid economic growth -- are affecting seniors.

Scene from the Aging in Asia conference held in Beijing, photo by Sara Frueh: John Giles of the World Bank Scenes from the Aging in Asia conferences held in Beijing and New Delhi, photo by Sara Frueh: (left to right) P. Arokiasamy of the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, India, and Mayling Oey-Gardiner of the University of Indonesia Scene from the Aging in Asia conference held in New Delhi, photo by Sara Frueh: Xuejin Zuo of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences speaking in New Delhi Scene from the Aging in Asia conference held in Beijing, photo by Sara Frueh: Beijing participants during a break
The report was released to open a December conference in Beijing hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the first of two international conferences that have brought together researchers from around the world to present the latest findings on this demographic shift in Asia. The second was held in New Delhi in March and was hosted by the Indian National Science Academy.

Among the research presented in Beijing were new findings on family support for the elderly in China. For example, researcher Yi Zeng of Peking University found that both elderly parents and their adult children benefitted from sharing a household; the elderly parents tended to have better cognitive function, while the child care they provided allowed more of their daughters to work outside the home. But such multigenerational living situations are becoming less common in China as more young adults leave rural areas to seek work in cities.

Although relocating can leave children less able to provide direct care to parents, it can help them provide financial support, as research by Xianghong Wang of Renmin University of China revealed: Forty-four percent of money sent back home by migrant workers is used to support parents. In general, money and other resources are flowing from children to parents in Asia, University of California researcher Ronald Lee reported -- unlike in Latin America and many other industrialized nations, where resources tend to be transferred in the opposite direction.

The wide range of research presented at the India conference included the first results from the Longitudinal Aging Study in India (LASI). Currently in its pilot phase, the study will eventually be expanded to follow the health, economic status, and social support of about 30,000 people over time.

David Bloom of Harvard University, one of the study's principal investigators, explained LASI's context, noting that the aging trend will be difficult for India. With fewer children living close to their parents, family-based support systems are eroding. In such situations people usually look to the government for support, but in India there is currently a vacuum. LASI will provide data that can be used to shape policies to fill that void.

The pilot LASI findings were explored in several subsequent presentations, including one by P. Arokiasamy of the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai and Jinkook Lee of Rand Corp. Their preliminary analysis of the data found that in India -- in contrast with many developed countries -- higher levels of education are linked to greater prevalence of diabetes and hypertension.

During a final roundtable discussion at the conference, participants explored some of the major challenges ahead for researchers, including finding funds for aging research given the recent economic downturn and helping policymakers understand the benefits of long-term studies. Also mentioned was the need for researchers to understand "the people behind the data" and their particular social and cultural context -- one of the benefits offered by international collaborations. --  Sara Frueh

More information on Beijing and Delhi conferences, as well as a free PDF of the report "Preparing for the Challenges of Population Aging in Asia," can be found online. The project is sponsored by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

Previous Table of Contents Next

Copyright 2011 by the National Academy of Sciences