Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University


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Demographic Change in East Asia: Economic, Social, and Security Implications

Policy Brief

Published by
Shorenstein APARC, December 2011


Japan leads, chased closely by South Korea, with China, on a vastly larger scale, not far behind. Not as mercantilist development states nor as threats to America’s high-tech industry, but rather as the world’s most rapidly aging societies.

A wave of unprecedented demographic change is sweeping across East Asia. The region is at the forefront of a trend towards longer life expectancy and declining birthrates, which, combined, yield a striking rate of aging. Japan already confronts a shrinking population. Korea is graying even more quickly. And although China is projected to grow for another few decades, demographic change races against economic development. Could China become the first country to grow old before growing rich? In Southeast Asia, Singapore also confronts a declining birthrate and an aging society. Increasingly, Asia’s aging countries look to its younger societies, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and India, as sources of migrant labor and even wives. Those countries in turn face their own demographic challenges, such as how to educate their youth for a globally competitive
economy.

Held September 8–9, 2011 in Kyoto, Japan, the third Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue focused on demographic change in the region and its implications across a wide range of areas, including economies, societies, and security. Asia’s experience offers both lessons and warnings for North America and Europe, which face similar problems. Questions addressed included:

  • What are the interrelationships between population aging and key macroeconomic variables such as economic growth, savings rates, and public and private intergenerational transfers?

  • How and why do policy responses to population aging differ in Japan, South Korea, and across different regions of China?

  • What are the effects of demographic change on national institutions such as employment practices, pension and welfare systems, and financial systems?

  • What policies can or should be pursued to influence future outcomes?

  • How will demographic change affect security in the Asia-Pacific region?

  • How have patterns of migration impacted society and culture in East Asia, in comparative perspective?

  • How will demographic change influence the movement of people across the region and the prevalence of multicultural families?

  • What lessons can Asia, the United States, and Europe learn from each other to improve the policy response to population aging?