Aging Asians to slow region’s growth–ADB

In Photo: Sameer Khatiwada and Elisabetta Gentile, economists at the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department, Asian Development Bank, brief members of the press on the “Asian Development Outlook 2018: How Technology Affects Jobs” at the 51st ADB annual meeting.

rapidly aging population does not bode well for Asian economies, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This is also true for the Philippines, which is currently enjoying the benefits of having a young population.

In a report, titled “Tapping Technology to Maximize the Longevity Dividend in Asia,” the ADB said even countries like the Philippines should already start preparing for the increase in older populations.

Bernard Woods, director, SPRA , AD B; Cristelle Pratt, deputy secretary-general, Pacific Islands, Forum Secretariat; and Ernesto Pernia, secretary of socioeconomic planning, National Economic and Development Authority, at the forum on “ADB’s Performance in Transition to Strategy 2030: The 2017 Development Effectiveness Review”.

The report indicated that the increase in the number of elderly Filipinos by 2021 to 2030 would have an adverse impact on economic growth.

“This is an issue for every country globally and especially in our region. And the way it will play out, some of the countries like China, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka will face this difficult [challenge],” ADB Chief of the Social Development Thematic Group Wendy Walker said in the forum, “ADB Insights Adapting to An Aging Asia: Building Opportunities to Support the Longevity Revolution,” held on Thursday in Manila.

“Others will take longer, such as Indonesia, but they will have larger older populations and that it will be a challenge going forward,” Walker added.

The rapid aging in Asia, Walker told the BusinessMirror, could be traced back to the reproductive-health policies implemented in various countries in the region. A rapidly aging China, she noted, was certainly brought about by its one-child policy.

This is the reason University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) School of Economics Dean Cid Terosa said it is no longer advisable for the Philippines to continue cutting its fertility rate.

Amro Director Junhong Chang and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor A. Espenilla Jr. at the Amro-BSP joint seminar “Asia’s Emergence in the New World Order: Growth, Integration and Resilience”.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said fertility refers to the average number of children that would be born alive to a woman—or group of women—during her lifetime if she were to pass through her childbearing years conforming to the age specific fertility rates of a given time period.

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) said the country’s total fertility rate has declined to 2.7 children in 2017, from 3 children in 2013.

“Lower population growth and fertility rate will hasten the aging of the population and cut the economically active population, which can negatively affect production in the long run,” Terosa told the BusinessMirror.

The UA&P economist also said that instead of spending for the spread of contraceptives, the government should invest in education, particularly of women.

He said studies have shown that “education is a natural way of managing the population since educated people usually weigh the costs and benefits of decisions to have children.”

However, Neda Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon told the BusinessMirror that while it is true that an aging population can slow down growth in the country, the Philippines is far from becoming an aging society.

At the joint seminar of the BSP and Amro are (from left) Diwa C. Guinigundo, Central Bank deputy governor for the Monetary Stability Sector; Dr. Hoe Ee Khor, Amro chief economist; Mitsuhiro Furusawa, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and Yasuyuki Sawada, chief economist of the ADB.

Edillon said this means there is still a need for a reproductive health program that can help families better provide for their children moving forward.

Earlier, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said that if the reproductive health law is fully implemented, the government can help mothers limit the number of their children to the desired number of three.

In terms of poverty reduction, making this happen for the poorest 20 percent of women or mothers, poverty incidence could decline by 1.5 percentage points in just one year.  Pernia said that if the poorest 40 percent of women and mothers are able to bring down the number of their children to 3, the reduction in the poverty rate could be close to 3 percentage points.

“We want to be able to invest adequately in the quality of human capital. However, the primary responsibility falls on the parents. We think that their capacity to adequately care for their children is reflected in their desired number of children. And the government intends to help them meet this responsibility,” Edillon said.

The ADB report disclosed that the share of senior population aged 65 and over will almost double to 18 percent in 2050, from 9.2 percent in 2020. The ADB said some countries will experience a drastic reduction of its working-age population (ages 15-64), as well as the aging of the current workforce.

The report noted that countries can help senior citizens continue being productive and extend their longevity by turning to technology. This means governments in the region must increase their investments in technological innovations.

ADB experts also said countries must explore the possibility of introducing changes in their labor markets, such as hiring more seniors. But countries must ensure that they are given safety nets, such as health-insurance coverage, whichh does not only cover acute diseases but also chronic diseases.

The forum was held during the 51st Annual Meeting of the ADB Board of Governors, which kicked off on Thursday.

Image Credits: Nonoy Lacza, Nonie Reyes

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A professional journalist for over a decade, Cai U. Ordinario currently writes macroeconomic and urban development stories for BusinessMirror. She has received awards for excellence in reporting on the macroeconomy and statistics. She was also cited for her contribution to statics reporting by the National Statistical Coordination Board (now the Philippine Statistics Authority). She is a recipient of journalism fellowships including the Jefferson Fellowship from the Honolulu-based East West Center. She is currently completing her Masters degree in Communication at the University of the Philippines. She graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Arts Major in Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas.