You’ve probably heard stories of Japan’s population decline, stories of Singapore and Taiwan and South Korea’s very low fertility rates, and stories of China’s declining working population. In fact, you might have heard those stories on this blog before. These Asian nations are facing ageing populations, low birth rates and declining working-age populations and all the economic and social challenges that they bring. However, there is another country to add to that list of countries facing these demographic challenges, one that you would perhaps associate with a young, growing population (I did): Thailand.

According to Reuters, now is a good time to be investing in elderly related industries: healthcare robots, adult diapers etc etc. By the end of this year nearly 15 per cent of Thailand’s population (68 million) will be over the retirement age of 60. By 2020 this proportion is expected to climb to 20 per cent. The working age population of the country will decline this year –Thailand is the first Southeast Asian nation where this will happen. One of the key drivers in this greying population is nearly three decades of below replacement fertility rates. Since 1992, Thais have not been having enough children on average to replace the preceding generation – meaning there are fewer workers being born to support the retirees.

The increasing number of elderly is placing a large financial burden on Thai households and the government. It is estimated by the government that households spend almost a third of their income caring for elderly relatives. Healthcare spending is predicted to rise from 4.5 per cent of GDP today to 7 per cent in 2026. All this while the working-age population to support this spending is decreasing.

Already the unique demands that the elderly have is filtering through to the markets. CT Asia Robotics is investing heavily in healthcare robots like the Dinsow which, for only USD2445, will keep track of your medication, videocall relatives, exercise with you (not really because it’s a robot) and provide karaoke entertainment. Housing developments have added elderyl-friendly features such as wheelchair ramps, sliding doors, touch-screen light switches and emergency alarm systems. Thailand is also following Japan in the adult diaper boom:

“In personal products, diaper maker DSG International Thailand PCL has seen adult diaper sales grow 30 percent this year, and expects double-digit growth over the next five years, said its chief operating officer.

‘We see Thailand moving in the direction of Japan whereby the adult diaper market will become larger than the baby diaper market, perhaps in 10 years’ time,’ Justine Wang told Reuters.”

Medical equipment such as mattresses which prevent bed sores and respiratory products are also becoming more popular. However, due to cultural influences, some retirement homes are not seeing an increased demand:

Thai Riei & Elderly Care Recruitment Co opened in January but attracting customers is a challenge, said Facility Manager Pornchanok Jeanmpudsa. The reason, she said, was a cultural perception that nursing homes are places to abandon the elderly.”

As Shannon mentioned last week, the world is going through an unprecedented population reversal. Thailand is yet another example to add to that list of ageing, eventually declining, countries. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...