Aging population, a problem or an opportunity?

According to data from the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, around global almost all the countries are aging. In 1990, populations older than 65 contributed 6 percent of total population worldwide, which surged to 9 percent in 2019 and is expected to reach 16 percent in 2050. The number of senior people aged over 80 is estimated to increase from 54 million in 1990, 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050 and 881 million in 2100.

China is one of the aging nations, in 2018, there were 167 million, almost 12 percent of the total population of 1.4 billion, older than 65, according to data from China National Bureau of Statistics. UN also forecast that in 2050, China will have 370 million Chinese people who are 65 and above, which reaches 26 percent of the total population.

Obviously, when there are less people working, more people receiving pension and services, there are problems, such as pension shortfall, pressure on medical system and elderly care, etc. Not even mention, lower fertility in many countries in last several decades, cause big concern of the economic and social impact of work force shrinking. More and more countries started to work on finding solutions due to this demographic shift worldwide.

Like the rest of the world, China also, especially after 40-year one-child policy which started in 1979 but stopped in 2016, is facing the same aging population consequences of shrinking work force and weaken the country economic strength, and other social challenges.

However, the huge elderly group with abundant assets and time on their hands create huge demand for variety products, including financial products, entertainment products, and services, beside healthcare and elderly care services. With better education and modern medical science, the demands of better life quality and wellness, boosting series industrial involvement and innovation. Demands generate market, generate business. “Big Health”, including medicine, medical equipment, drug distribution and health-related services, is the biggest industry. In US, 15 of Fortune Global 500 companies are in Big Health.

The central government of China, was quickly responded to the challenges of aging population, besides stopped the one-child policy in 2016. According to the paper, which was published by official news agency Xinhua on 21st Nov 2019, Beijing is calling for an active response to the aging problem with short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, to be achieved by 2022, 2035 and 2050 respectively.

In order to bolster the understaffed workforce and provide more suitable services for the elderly, a slew of measures have been rolled out. The authorities have adopted preferential policies and offered financial support to attract young people into the elderly-care sector and encouraged local education departments to train more skilled staff in the field, according to a guideline on supporting the social service industry issued in October 2019. China also issued a new set of professional standards for elderly caregivers, lowering thresholds for entering the sector, expanding career paths for nursing staff and shortening the periods in between promotions.

In a move to provide more comprehensive elderly services, the integration of medical and nursing care has been promoted, encouraging both medical staff and institutions to establish contractual service relationships with the families of elderly patients, according to a guideline on promoting the development of elderly-care services issued 2019. Real estate industry also turned their hard-to-sell properties in over-developed areas into retirement communities featuring integrated care service akin to the Continuing Care Retirement Community, a type of an international retirement community that offers services tailored to elderly needs from independent living, assisted living to skilled nursing care. Some of those properties also have been transferred to senior vacation houses in coast area or popular vacation places, to offer seasoning stay for those retirees who are healthy and wealthy enough for a “getaway” escaping from their routine daily life at home.

Financial institutions such as insurance companies are also encouraged to invest in and set up old-age nursing institutions integrated with medical services, for which the government will provide preferential policies in registration, land supply and tax, according to a recent guideline on deepening medical and old-age care integration. Besides leveraging the role of state-owned enterprises, more cooperation between local governments and enterprises in elderly-care projects has been highlighted in a special action plan released by the central government, with the aim to provide accessible and affordable services. Up to last year, China has nearly 4,000 such institutions providing integrated medical and old-age care, and more than 20,000 medical institutions are under contract with elderly-care providers to offer services including on-site visits, first aid, diagnosis and treatment, according to the paper which was publish by Xinhua Net. By 2022 China is projected to see all communities equipped with elderly-care facilities and train 2 million nursing workers for the elderly, while also launching a variety of elderly-care insurance products, among others, according to a government plan.

In another hands, for those seniors who are healthy, they need more services for better quality of their retired life. “夕阳红“ ( The sunset life) became a popular theme for many businesses who targeted this huge market. Travel tours, wellness retreat resorts, education seminars, art programs, etc. Technology industry also designed smart phones for seniors with bigger screen, voice recording, message reading features. Concepts and products of health maintenance are so popular, there is new “industry” which focus on this big market. Chinese Traditional Medicine with principle of “prevention is always better than cure” received the big market benefit, create a new wave of Chinese Traditional Medicine Culture. “The sunset life” of seniors in China is generating a new distinct economic model.

Aging population is not just a burden, it can be an opportunity if all sectors of the society can work together. All the aging nations should learn from each other to develop what it is suitable to their country. The world is changing, so does everyone with open mind.