In the present paper, the author tries to explore and
reflect the phenomenon of aging comparatively in Asia.
While the world is aging at an unprecedented pace, the
outcomes are not the same in all regions. However, while
it took Europe to double the proportion of its elderly
population from 7 to 14 percent almost within a century,
the same change is appearing in Asian countries such
as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Iran and the like
in a shorter span of time. Overall, population aging
is one of the major achievements of the 20th century,
but it needs appropriate sociological assessment. Aging
in Asian settings, it has in recent decades become an
important topic of discussion at many colloquiums at
national and international levels. While aging is an
issue of high priority within many Western societies,
different aspects of the phenomenon are yet to find
their importance in many parts of Asia as well. The
extreme population aging in the West as well as in many
parts of Asia has led, and is yet leading to increase
the demand for further social and health services etc.
Issues stemming from family relations, health services,
retirement, and economic well-being of the aging population
are sociologically appraised in the present article.
Age-related topics are studied, and the demographic
profiles highlight the relevant issues of the phenomenon.
The scenario leads to new challenges particularly in
Asia where the history of aging is not too old. We will
see how aging affects the quality of life in all areas.
Asia, with a larger population, and larger young population
structure, will experience aging even faster than the
West. While aging is in process in Asia, elderly
aging or aging beyond a hundred years or so, is
in process in the West. However, per capita income,
elderlys rate of literacy, financial resources
of the elderly etc. all affect the quality of life of
the aging population too.
Age, is a characteristic that
every society uses to move people into and out of status,
roles, rights and obligations, is reflected differently
in various societies. The process of creating social
categories based on age is known as age grading and
aging, and varies from culture to culture , and from
one historical period to another. We will see as to
how changes in proportion of people in a population
at each age level has important social consequences
in different societies. One of our objectives in this
paper is to find out the connotation of such changes
in Asia. Population aging or graying due to increased
longevity, and a declining birth rate, is more prevalent
in the industrial world rather than the developing world.
The paper finds out how due to change in population
structure, population aging will immediately change
trends in the decades ahead with special reference to
Population aging as an unprecedented
phenomenon in human history and is increasingly observed
in the developed and the developing world, leaving behind
social, economic, health and other problems. Currently,
increase in the proportions of the elderly (60 years
and older), accompanied by decline in the proportions
of the young age groups (under the age of 15), have
created various problems, or are potentially responsible
for challenges in different dimensions. According to
projections, by the year 2050, the number of older persons
in the world will exceed the number of the young for
the first time in history (Pop Newsletter, 2001). Such
a scenario will lead to new challenges in human life.
However, by 1998, this historical reversal in relative
proportions of the young and the old has already taken
place in more developed regions.
The phenomenon of aging, being
pervasive, is affecting each and every one of us in
every society irrespective of age and sex. It has a
direct bearing on the intergenerational equity and solidarity
which are the very foundations of societies. Hence quality
of life has been widely affected, due to this current
Likewise, the consequences and
implications of aging are reflected in all facets of
life, such as, affecting the quality of life in all
areas. For example, in the economic area, population
aging will have impacts on economic growth, saving,
investment, consumption, labor market, pensions, taxation
etc. Also, in the social sphere, aging affects health
and health care, family composition, living arrangements,
housing etc. All these factors and even more, inevitably
affect various dimensions of quality of life.
However, the trend towards aging
is largely irreversible in the decades to come simply
as a result of demographic transition taking place in
the world in which fertility and mortality both have
decreased in an unprecedented manner.
According to UN estimates, the
world added approximately 600 million older persons
to its population at the turn of the century, i.e. almost
3 times the number it had in the mid 20th century. However,
by the mid 21st century, the world elderly will again
triple -reaching 2 billion. Such a great change in population
structure, needs more attention, more relevant resources,
and more appropriate planning.
Though the developed regions
experienced aging earlier, yet the less developed regions
including Asia are following the same path. In the more
developed world in particular in Western Europe, almost
one fifth of the population was estimated to be aged
60 years and older in the year 2000. By the year 2050,
this proportion is projected to reach one third. On
the other hand, while only about 8 percent of the population
in Asia is currently over the age of 60, this proportion
will increase to 20 percent by the mid 21st century.
Such a dramatic change will need relevant and appropriate
infrastructure to be able to handle the Asian aging
population, and to be adequately responsive to the quality-of-life
needs of the emerging elderly.
As the speed of population aging
is much faster in Asia as compared with Europe, and
the whole developed world, Asia has much more to do,
to adjust to the consequences of such population aging.
Likewise, population aging in Asia is taking place at
much lower levels of socio-economic development than
was the case in Europe in the mid 20th century.
Demographically speaking, in
2000, the median age for the world was 26 years. The
country with the youngest population is Yemen, with
a median age of 15 years, and the oldest is Japan, with
the same indicator of 41 years. By 2050, the world median
age is projected to have increased by about 10 years
i.e., to 36 years. The country with the youngest population
at that time is predicted to be Nigeria in Africa, with
a median age of 20 years, and the oldest is expected
to be Spain, with a median
age of 55 years by that year (Pop Newsletter,2001).
Such a change will give a different perspective to the
aging population so far as their quality of life is
A new phenomenon of the elderly
aging is also growing, and it is estimated that
those aged 80 years, are currently increasing at the
rate of 3.8 percent per annum, and the number of which
comprises more than one tenth of the total number of
older persons. Under such conditions, one fifth of the
older persons will be 80 years and older by the mid
21st century. Such a scenario indicates that the dependency
burden on working-age groups (15-46) will be remarkable
While the majority of the aging
population are women, more due to the fact that the
female life expectancy is higher than men, as estimated
in the year 2000, there were 36 million more women than
men aged 60 years and above. Also, as the ratio will
have more change/ gap at the age of 80 and above, i.e.
almost two men for every five women, more specific plans
should be implemented so as to protect the quality of
life of such potentially vulnerable people.
So far as income is concerned,
countries with higher per capita income tend to have
lower rates of elderly participation, and on the contrary,
to a greater extent, older people participate in labor
markets in the less developed regions including Asia
largely due to the limited coverage of retirement schemes,
and the small incomes when provided. Therefore, many
have to work even at the ages not suitable and recommended
for their physical conditions, which eventually leads
to poor quality of life among them.
Another factor responsible for
low quality of life among the elderly is known as illiteracy.
Though a lot of efforts have been made to eradicate
illiteracy, yet it is common especially among the Asian
elderly. According to estimates, almost half of all
the people 60 years and above in the less developed
regions including Asia have been declared as illiterate
by the year 2000. Only about 1/3 of older women and
three fifths of the older men could read and write at
basic level, whereas in Europe, literacy has almost
approached full coverage except in some countries.
In the study of older
people in modern society, growing attention has been
focused on their lifesatisfaction and quality
of life (Tinker, 1983 and Hughes,1990). Lifesatisfaction
is related to the degree to which people feel they achieve
their aspirations, morale and happiness. But, how quality
of life is measured is difficult to decide. In a nutshell,
ways of measuring quality of life of the elderly people
could include: their individual characteristics, their
physical and mental health, their dependency, their
housing, their social environment, their comforts, security
etc. However, to develop a system of health care and
security for the elderly, paying special attention to
the needs of the women is highly recommended with a
view to enhancing the ability of families to take care
of the elderly people within their families in general.
Methodology used in the present article is of qualitative
type, in that, various paradigms for finding facts have
been used. Qualitative research usually studies the
people in their natural setting. In finding facts for
the research, the researcher engaged in careful data
collection and thoughtful analysis of what was relevant.
In the documentary research applied in the present article,
printed and written materials were widely regarded.
The research was performed as a qualitative library
type in which the researcher had to refer to relevant
and related sources. In the present research, various
books on aging were thoroughly investigated, and the
needful inferences were made. The data =used by the
investigator in the present research is dependable
and reliable. Though literature on Iranian aging is
very limited, yet the author has tried to investigate
many foreign resources as well, in order to elicit the
necessary information in order to build up the text.
While the age of retirement is lowering in many parts
of the developing world due to large number of young
people waiting to get into jobs, it is in contrast increasing
in the Western world especially in (EU) due to increase
in the number of the aging people and lack of youth
to enter into active production sector. However, the
emerging problem is somehow currently being solved within
many European countries by attracting guest workers
from the developing countries.
Systems of financial support
for old people are in trouble worldwide. To ensure that,
these systems continue to protect the old, and promote
economic growth, countries need to consider comprehensive
pension reforms. Based on estimates, over the next 25
years, the proportion of the worlds population
over 60 will nearly double, i.e. from 9 percent to 16
percent. However, populations are aging much faster
in developing countries than they did in industrial
countries. As todays young workers near retirement
around the year 2030, 80 percent of the worlds
old people will live in what today are developing countries
(mainly Asian). More than half will live in Asia, and
more than a quarter in China alone (Finance & Development,
1995). These countries need to develop their old-age
systems quickly, and make them sufficiently resilient
to withstand rapid demographic change. Under the conditions
that the extended family system and village support
networks on which two-thirds of the worlds old
people depend, tend to break down due to pressures of
urbanization, industrialization and rapid socio-cultural
mobility, the elderly people come to be at a loss. As
a result of all these factors, old-age systems are in
serious financial trouble. However, the situation happens
to be more acute in Asia.
In traditional communities, work and organizational
structure of family were inter-connected. Relations
and contacts within age groups were close, and there
was mutual dependence between the young and the elderly
groups. Such close connections and exchange of functions
between generations within the family network ensured
the survival of elderly people where there were no other
forms of guaranteed social support in old age. The type
of network allowed the elderly to have enough authority
and participate in family functions based on family
division of labor. However, industrialization and the
process of social change in both Asia and Europe have
led to social differentiation of age groups with reference
to economic functions, official retirement and other
Currently, due to the modernization
of societies in different educational, scientific and
technical respects, the younger generations are capable
of providing for themselves. Therefore, the older generations
are left isolated and dependent on pensions and other
kinds of social help. This process eventually promotes
relative independence of generations from each other,
diminishes the necessity for cooperation and results
in the destruction of family solidarity and mutual dependence.
Therefore, in modern societies, responsibility for the
elderly is more and more becoming formal and depersonalized.
Under such networks, the elderly people do not play
their former roles. They depart from the family, i.e.
not carrying out the role of the grandparents, and the
younger generations tend to less require the support
of the elderly (Aleksandrova,1974)
Socio-economic Effects of
The inevitable harmful social and economic effects of
aging are becoming obvious more than ever before with
special reference to Asia. Most prominent among the
concerns that are being voiced with respect to aging
is how to fund social security programs in the face
of increasing numbers of retired persons, and how to
pay for rising health care costs generated by the elderly
people (Mullan, 2000). These concerns have at times,
led to the conclusion that population aging is bound
to be more a catastrophic drain on economic resources.
Actually speaking, while the Western (European) countries
are and will continue to be rather well equipped to
handle the present and projected increase in the older
population, yet the emergence of the elderlys
social problems is something more recent. The whole
scenario is more problematic for Asian countries rather
than the Western European ones, wherein there are shortages
of necessary infrastructure, and the societies that
are rapidly changing to new cultural forms. Thus, the
Asian elderly are much more socially and economically
insecure in different dimensions.
Living in a demographically
diverse world, has also led to unprecedented aging change
too. While the global population increased by 2 billion
during the last quarter of the 20th century; reaching
6 billion in 2000, resources have not increased that
much to respond to the increasing elderly with special
reference to Asia. As projected, the population will
increase by another 2 billion during the first decades
of the 21st century, and as nearly all the increase
has been, and will be in the developing countries including
Asia, aging problems will emerge more than ever before
in the region.
We, as living in a world of
unprecedented demographic diversity, should be more
cautious, and planning-minded. As the traditional demographic
groupings of countries are breaking down, more socio-economic
problems of the aging populations are emerging. Over
the next 25 years, increases in population in South
Asian and the Middle East are expected to be larger
than the past quarter of the century. In contrast, in
European countries, and in East Asia, population growth
has slowed or stopped, and rapid population aging has
become a serious concern (Population and Development
Review, 2002). Increasing levels of aging accompanied
by increasing mobility and urbanization, are affecting
economic and social outlooks of many countries.
The challenges found due to
such diversities require adequate responses. The most
urgent of these, occur where rapid population growth,
high levels of poverty, and low level of economic growth
coincide. Under such conditions the elderly face various
The Elderly Vulnerability
Deteriorating environmental conditions and extreme events
do not affect all countries and populations in the same
way. Hence, many factors contribute to their vulnerability
including poverty, poor health, low levels of education,
gender inequality, lack of access to resources and services,
and unfavorable geographical locations. All these, somehow
or other affect the elderly people more in Asia rather
than the West. Under the conditions wherein the populations
in general are socially disadvantaged or lack political
voice, the elderly people in particular are also at
greater risk. Vulnerable aging populations include the
poorest, the least empowered segments and especially
the women. These vulnerable aging persons have limited
capacity to protect themselves from current and future
environmental and social hazards, such as polluted air
and water, catastrophes, and the adverse consequences
of large-scale environmental change such as biodiversity
loss, climate change etc.
To ease and solve the problems
of the elderly people especially in the Asian context,
more interdisciplinary research and education addressing
the above topics is necessary at all levels. The different
disciplines should also conduct their studies in ways
that make the result mutually accessible to the elderly.
The Older Widows
The aged members, especially old women, face a serious
situation in todays family structure. The demographic
scenario of aging indicates a rise in the longevity
of women (Desai et.al., 2003). As the proportion of
the elderly people increases in the society, the increasing
proportion of widows and widowers too, is very likely
to emerge. Comparing the proportion of widows with the
widowers, the number of the former is higher due to
the fact that women marry earlier than men, and also
they tend to outlive men. Similarly, after the ages
of 60, women have the chance of longer life. The chance
of remarriage for men in their later life keeps
the proportion of widowers lower than the widows almost
everywhere. However, the consequences of widowhood leading
to isolation and loneliness is more faced by the women
rather than men.
shows that widowhood appears as an effect of marital
dissolution worldwide. Apart from divorce, it in most
cases happens as a natural event due to the death of
a spouse. In both cases, women tend to suffer longer
term of negative social and economic consequences, while
men do not (Neubeck et.al. 1996, 478).
spite of recognizing the problems faced by the elderly
widows in many parts of Asia, governments are not ready
to take more responsibility, but want the individual
family to help its members in a crisis situation such
as widowhood. The challenges faced by the widows towards
the end of the 20th century, financial resources have
helped the aging population, and thereby enhanced their
quality of life in different ways.
Modernization in many parts
of Asia has greatly influenced the lives of the elderly
due to increasing change in the family structure and
ties, more mobility among the families, more employment
by women etc. All these have caused the families to
be more segmented, and consequently not to have time
enough to invest in the elderly people. Also, with the
increasing decline in fertility and mortality rates,
population aging is appearing more than ever before:
generating significant demands for long-term care (IFA,
2001). Hence, the demographic trends are dramatically
changing the face of many nations in Asia, or will soon
do so in the future. One way of measuring the speed
of these shifts is through a measure of population
aging, although the phenomenon is very recent
in Asia, but is rapidly spreading in many parts of the
However, as explored, still
the majority of the elderly wish to live with their
adult children. There is clear evidence showing the
familial and family-feeling among the elderly in most
parts of Asia. As observed, modernization is seen as
a paradoxical phenomenon in Asia since it is eroding
the traditional support system.
However, today the elderly people
have come into the agenda of many Asian countries as
had happened in the West previously. Similarly, Asia
too needs to develop enough literature on the topic.
It is becoming the region where the majority of the
elderly people are concentrated. That is to say, the
majority (52%) of the worlds senior citizens (people
60 and over) live in Asia; four in every fifteen are
concentrated in Eastern Asia including China, and one
in six inhabit South-central Asia including India (ESCAP,
1996). Similarly, about one in fifteen live in South-east
Asia including Indonesia, and Western Asia includes
Such development is largely
due to economic success in the region, and a result
of success in population control since early 1980s.
Increased life expectancy which also resulted in, or
is a consequence of, improved health care and living
standards, has led to increasing old age in all societies,
but more in the Western world. However, while until
around the 1970s many countries especially in South-east
Asia were still considered to have young populations,
since 1980s the older age categories have increased;
making it necessary to examine the conditions of these
growing elderly people.
development is largely due to economic success in the
region, and a result of success in population control
since early 1980s. Increased life expectancy which also
resulted in, or is a consequence of, improved health
care and living standards, has led to increasing old
age in all societies, but more in the Western world.
However, while until around the 1970s many countries
especially in South-east Asia were still considered
to have young populations, since 1980s the older age
categories have increased; making it necessary to examine
the conditions of these growing elderly people.
It is noted that since the 1950s,
life expectancy of men has increased by 20 years or
more in Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Thailand, and
by 15 years in Japan, while the number of women has
even increased more dramatically (Human Development
Report, 1997). These developments have eventually resulted
in an accelerated increase in the proportion of the
elderly people in almost all parts of Asia, but with
The elderly peoples conditions
are not the same all over Asia. For example, in South-east
Asia, the proportion of those aged 60 and over is not
yet as high as in Japan. There is growing concern in
this regard since the necessary institutional arrangements
for taking care of them outside the family are not yet
in place. Therefore, much has to be done to put it in
order and toward adequacy.
Comparative Aging Indicators of Asia and Europe in
Selected Countries in Three Periods (%)
Source(s): World Population Data Sheet(s) 1995, 2005
European Outlook of Aging
The establishment of individual and universal mandatory
pension rights has come to be known as an efficient
way to eradicate poverty in old age among both women
and men. Health promotion and well-being of these people
in Europe are among the issues which have been of priority
and well attended in Europe as compared with Asia in
the course of the twentieth century.
Sociologically speaking, the discipline of sociology
came into being to explore and solve, inter alia, the
emerging challenges and the social issues of the elderly
people, and thereby to enhance their quality of life.
As a major task of sociology is to analyze the social
problems, gradually social welfare enhanced first in
Europe leading to social order which also included the
first occurred in Europe, was a multidimensional concept.
It was divided into four distinct elements:
- economic modernization (industrialization),
- political modernization (democratization),
- societal modernization (realization of freedom and
- cultural modernization (the move towards rationalism).
All these four dimensions affected
the elderlys lives somehow or other. The process
of modernization is still advancing, and is changing
the lives of the elderly in almost all the European
countries, namely, changing their quality of life.
Progress in general quality
of life has contributed to the major social risks
such as illness, accidents and impecunious old age to
be protected in Europe on a larger scale as compared
with Asia. At the same time, while poverty is lower
among the elderly people in Europe as compared with
Asia, yet social exclusion is appearing in the continent
as a new concept. Poverty and social exclusion being
central issues of social policy, so far as the elderly
are concerned, they have been well addressed in Europe.
It could be illustrated as follows:
Since new forms of administration
occurred in Europe much earlier than Asia due to the
emergence of industrialization, elderly issues, and
the methods to eliminate them started earlier in that
continent, especially in the Western part as compared
with Asia, and that is why the quality of life there,
started to be enhanced earlier too.
Some of the qualityoflife
indicators as found (UNFPA, 2002), could be outlined
Availability of health care services,
Affordability of health care,
Quality of health care,
Quality of health control,
Quality of housing,
Affordability of housing,
Comparative sociological research
indicates that there are meaningful differences between
the above indicators in Asia and Europe so far as the
elderly are concerned. The main causes of difference
between the two stems from lack of resources, lack of
capital, underdevelopment of administration etc.
There is a clear need for research on the type and magnitude
of the conditions and problems of older persons in relation
to gender, age groups, physical and mental health status,
socio-economic status, and ability to continue to be
productive. Research is also necessary on the enabling
environment, the resources available in the family,
community, society, and the state to
care for older persons in a way that is conducive to
making them independent, self-reliant and productive.
So far as older women
are concerned, they particularly face greater risk of
physical and psychological abuse due to discriminatory
and societal attitudes, and the non-realization of the
human rights of women. Womens poverty is directly
related to the absence of economic opportunities and
autonomy, lack of access to economic resources including
credit, land ownership, and inheritance, lack of access
to education and support services and minimal participation
in the decision-making processes. Poverty can also force
women into a situation in which they are vulnerable
to sexual exploitation. (Madrid International Plan of
Action on Aging, 2000)
It is quite evident that the
unprecedented demographic, social and economic changes
which had their origins in the nineteenth and the twentieth
centuries, and are well continuing into the 21st century,
and are transforming the world in different dimensions
including the elderly. The declines in fertility reinforced
by increasing longevity have produced and will continue
to produce unprecedented changes in the structure of
all societies, notably the historic reversal in the
proportions of the young and the old persons in Europe,
and in some cases in Asia. Many parts of Asia are still
in their infancy with respect to the development of
formal services. Hence, despite rapid social change,
family caregiving for the elderly is still the dominant
type of caregiving in Asia. Likewise, the profound,
pervasive and enduring consequences of population aging
presents enormous opportunities as well as enormous
challenges for all societies. That is, a scenario which
ever needs research, development, planning and investment.
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