As the UN commemorates World Day of Social Justice on February 20, we’re taking a look at one of the key challenges the world is facing in the coming decades: the gradual and largely irreversible shift towards an older population. According to the United Nations Population Division, the number of persons aged 65 and older is expected to double over the next three decades, reaching 1.6 billion in 2050.
As the following chart shows, Asia is at the forefront of this trend, with Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan expected to have the highest share of people aged 65 and older by 2050. While Japan is famous for its old population and was already topping the list in 2022, other Asian economies are in the middle of a significant shift, as life expectation has rapidly improved over the last decades and continues to do so. By 2050, roughly 40 percent of the populations of Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan are expected to be 65 and older, which makes a huge difference to levels currently observed in highly developed regions, where the share of older people is in the low 20s.
“Population ageing is a defining global trend of our time,” the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs writes in its World Social Report 2023, calling it a “major success story” that brings both challenges and opportunities. One of the main challenges for countries with ageing populations is to ensure that the economy can support the consumption needs of a growing number of older people, be it by raising the legal retirement age, removing barriers to voluntary labor force participation of older people or by ensuring equitable access to education, health care and working opportunities throughout the lifespan, which can help to boost economic security at older ages.
Especially countries in the early stages of the demographic shift have the opportunity to plan ahead and implement the right measures ahead of time, to effectively manage the challenges that come with an ageing population.