Aging Southeast Asian Population May Create "Grey Collar" Economy
According to Noviscape, “grey collar workers” will become the fastest growing segment of the workforce in countries such as Singapore and Thailand.
While rapid declining fertility and longer life expectancy are evident in every country in the region, they are aging at different rates.
“Singapore and Thailand have already been categorized as ageing societies since the early 2000s, Cambodia and Laos both have very young populations. The rest of ASEAN member states fall somewhere between these extremes, but are catching up fast.” (pg9)
This aging workforce will face many challenges, as many are employed in the informal sector, but lack the informal social safety net that once characterized rural life.
“The majority of elderly workers in Southeast Asia have limited formal education. Some 60 percent continue to work because they are the main source of family income… It is estimated that between 2009 and 2019, about 5.4% of the elderly workers in Thailand will enter the job market, but the labor demand will increase by only 2.5%. Everywhere in cities and rural villages, we still see older people working as hard as they physically can. The average age of farmers in Thailand is rising and has now reached 51 years… With the breakdown of the informal social safety net that once sustained rural life, more state support will be needed for aging workers in the rural and informal sectors.” (pg 10)
“In Thailand… nearly 60 percent of the workforces are employed in the informal sector. A high proportion are older, as younger workers often replace those employed in the “formal sector” once they reach 40. Currently one-third of the elderly in Thailand have to work to support themselves and their families.” Pg 9
Because aging is such a new phenomenon, there is not much existing infrastrcture to deal with it.
“Health care systems in Southeast Asia are currently focused on maternal and child health and on reproductive-health services.” (pg 4)
“Developing countries need to start preparing themselves now to ensure that their economies and institutions are capable of supporting an aging population. For example, Southeast Asian countries can choose from several policy measures to mitigate expected labor shortfalls. Labor force participation rates can be increased, for example, by exploring education reforms to facilitate entry of young adults into the labor force, by extending the economic productivity of aging populations (e.g. in the context of the knowledge society); promote healthy aging, removing gender barriers, and increasing the mandatory retirement age, or scrapping it altogether.” (pg 4)
For educated seniors, moving to less developed countries for skilled jobs may be an option.
“We may eventually see more senior Singaporeans migrating from the island state to neighboring countries, finding employment as highly-skilled professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China.” (Pg 11)
Programs in which “elderly apprentices learn new technologically-advanced knowledge and skills from the young masters” is also possible.
And while unskilled workers and those in the informal sector will have a much harder time than aging white collar workers, there may be some "career convergence":
"Inequality in incomes and assets is expected to be greater among the elderly than among younger workers. There could be some career convergence of formerly white and blue collar workers for certain jobs that are less physically demanding and require less advanced skills and training. Examples include call-center representatives, shop cashiers, and other service jobs. We can expect more part-time workers, as employers do not wish to provide benefits."
Noviscape also sees potential for Southeast Asian countries to leap-frog western countries in terms of solutions to aging:
“In some respects Southeast Asia is fortunate because aging is not as advanced and because their public-support programs are not as ambitious as in the western world. They also have the advantage of studying the successes and failures of policies and programs implemented elsewhere.”
Sources:Noviscape April 2011 page 1-11: