Symposium Report vol.1

NGOs, experts, and governments have started collaboration: New movement in international cooperation on population aging

The Symposium for Global Partnership on Ageing was held in Tokyo and Shizuoka last December. It was co-sponsored by the Cabinet Office, Shizuoka Prefecture, and Japan NGO Council on Ageing (=JANCA; Representatives: Tsutomu Hotta and Keiko Higuchi).

The importance of collaboration among governments, citizens, NGOs, and older adults themselves was emphasized at the 2nd World Assembly on Ageing (in Madrid, Spain) in April 2002. Also, networking and partnerships among NGOs in different nations were strongly recommended at the NGO forum which preceded an inter-government meeting. This symposium was held in response to such needs for information exchange and international collaboration among governments and NGOs, with financial support by the Cabinet Office.

Speakers were invited from China, South Korea, Thailand, U.K., U.S.A., and Japan. Because this event is a rear opportunity to have international collaboration and information exchange among government officials, experts, and NGO representatives, it has great promise for the future.

The following report was written by Mr. Masahiko Nishiuchi at Kyodo Tsushin, summarizing the latest information and programs based on presentations by speakers from South Korea, China, and Thailand.

Symposium Report vol.2

Aging in South Korea: The fastest in the world

The speakers reported on population aging in their countries at the Symposium for Global Partnership on Ageing. The Japanese government representative reported “Japan is one of the most aged countries in the world, and the population has been aging quite fast.”

However, the South Korean representative reported that his country was aging even faster than Japan, which was quite surprising for a number of participants. According to Dr. Ann Pil-Joon(president, The Korean Senior Citizens Association), the percentage of the elderly reached 7% in 2000. It will double by 2019.

It took 114 years in France for the percentage of the elderly to grow from 7% to 14%, and it took 85 years in Sweden and 53 years in Denmark. Due to their relatively slow growth of the elderly population, these countries had more time to deal with the phenomena. On the other hand, it only took 24 years in Japan, making the country “the top runner of population aging.” However, it is expected to take even a shorter period, 19 years, in South Korea.

The average life expectancy in South Korea was 72.1 years for males and 77.4 years for females in 2000. The elderly population is expected to show further growth, and the number of people who need long-term care is expected to grow from 518,000 (13% of the elderly population) in the current figure to 1,000,000 (15% of the elderly population) by 2020. Responding to the growing number of the elderly, Dr. Ann reported that South Korea was planning to establish a national long-term care insurance by 2010.

“One of the reasons for population aging is declining total fertility rates (TFR). It was 6.3 in 1960 but declined to 1.17 by 2002, which is a quite shocking number.”

The TFR in South Korea is not only lower than 2.1, which is the level needed to ensure the long-term replacement of the population, but also lower than other countries with low TFRs, including Italy (1.24 in 2000) and Japan (1.32 in 2002).

Ms. Kim Hye-Weon, a lecturer at Rikkyo University, points out several reasons for the dramatic decline in fertility rates in Japan Aging Research Center’s quarterly magazine “Aging (vol. 121),” such as (1) success of the family planning initiative which started in 1962, (2) the increasing number of working women, which makes it more difficult to juggle work and family, (3) high education costs, and (4) financial burdens associated with child rearing, including parental responsibilities to pay for children’s wedding.

According to Dr. Ann, Ministry of Gender Equality is taking a leading role in lessening the burden of child rearing and in encouraging higher fertility.

Symposium Report vol.3

The percentage of the elderly is over 14% in Shanghai

Dr. Ma Li-Zhong (director, Institute of Studies on East Asia, Shanghai University) mainly reported on the conditions in Shanghai. China is the most populated country, with 1.3 billion people. However, because 60% of the land consists of deserts and mountains, most of the people live in eastern regions, where agriculture is more suited. Shanghai is the biggest city in China, with the population of 16 million. It is not only a model city for economic development in China but also the most aged city in the nation.

According to the 2000 census, the percentage of the elderly was 6.9% nationwide. Yet, it already reached 7% in Shanghai by 1979. In 2000, the percentage of the elderly in Shanghai was 14.1%. In other words, it only took 21 years in Shanghai, which is shorter than 24 years in Japan, to double the proportion of the elderly.

The direct reasons for population aging in Shanghai are declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancies, similar to South Korea. According to Dr. Ma, the total fertility rate in Shanghai was over 5 in early 1950s. Starting in 1960s, before the “one-child policy” was initiated, Shanghai developed initiatives in public health and family planning, which changed perceptions among citizens and led to lower fertility rates. By 1970s, the TFR fell below the replacement rate, and it was already 1.23 when the once-child policy started in 1979. The TFR in Shanghai was 0.96 in 2000.

Since 1993, the numbers of births per year have been between 60,000 to 70,000, while the numbers of deaths have been 90,000 to 100,000, meaning that the population is actually declining. The average life expectancy was 77.8 years for males and 81.8 years for females in 2001, coming close to the most aged country Japan.

Shanghai had 13.34 million residents as of the end of 2002, of whom 1.947 million (14.7% of the total population) were aged 65 and over. Like other mega-cities, Shanghai has a number of nuclear families, and the family compositions have been changing dramatically since the one-child policy started. The average household size declined from 4.5 in 1964 to 2.7 in 2002. The number of households with the elderly was 1.674 million in 2000, increasing twelvefold in 10 years. Moreover, 1/3 of the households with the elderly was “empty nests,” consisting only of the elderly. The proportion of empty nests is expected to grow to 80-90% ten years from now.

Dr. Ma pointed out that the most pressing matters would be social security and caring for the vulnerable elderly such as old-old and those needing assistance in daily living. Dr. Ma emphasized the importance of social security systems at the government levels to legally protect the elderly. He also mentioned the important roles the local community is playing in connecting families and the society, which may help overcome challenges including caring for the vulnerable elderly.