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out that type of data infrastructure, we would not be able to monitor the key simultaneous transitions in these domains as people age and, even more importantly, how the various life domains mutually influence each other. The implication is that we would be unable to anticipate unforeseen consequences of policies centered on one domain in isolation on major life outcomes in the other domains. The absence of a common data infrastructure platform also implies that countries would not learn from the successes and failures of other countries in their attempts to deal with population aging.

Fortunately, this situation is rapidly changing for the better. Starting in the United States with the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a data infrastructure platform has emerged that has spread throughout Europe and Asia centered on issues of population aging. In this chapter, I describe the origins and world-wide spread of this data infrastructure, its common elements, and its potential to inform policy and enhance the science.

This chapter is organized into three sections. The next section describes the primary demographic trends driving aging in several Asian countries over the next century. Section 2 summarizes the new aging data sets that are based on the U.S. HRS, with discussion on the European and Asian comparable surveys that have emerged to provide a scientific and policy infrastructure to study population aging around the world. Section 3 provides illustrations of the way these surveys can be used to study population aging. The final section also highlights the chapter’s main conclusions.


There are several fundamental demographic trends that are rapidly changing population aging throughout the world, and Asia is no exception. Figure 2-1 highlights one of the forces contributing to the aging of the Asian population by plotting changing life expectancies for four large Asian countries—China, India, Indonesia, and Japan—over a 100-year period from 1950 to 2050. In 1950, average life expectancy was around 30 years in China, India, and Indonesia, but over the subsequent 60 years until the present time, life expectancy in all three countries improved dramatically—to around age 70 in China and Indonesia and over age 60 in India. While Japan started at a higher base with more than a 60-year life expectancy in 1950, Japan, too, experienced large drops in mortality, reaching a life expectancy in the mid-80s by 2010, one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Nor is there any sign of much abatement in these trends. The best demographic projections foresee additional added years of life in all four countries in the future, with China and Indonesia both reaching life expectancies of about 80 years, double the level that existed 100 years earlier.

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