Society at a Glance: Asia/Pacific

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Society at a Glance: Asia-Pacific is a biennial OECD overview of social indicators in the Asia-Pacific region. It provides quantitative evidence on social well-being and its trends.

Society at a Glance: Asia/Pacific 2014

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31 Oct 2014
9789264220553 (PDF) ;9789264220539(print)

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This is the third edition of Society at a Glance Asia/Pacific, a regularly updated OECD overview of social indicators, which addresses the growing demand for quantitative evidence on social well-being and its trends. This report starts with an introductory chapter providing a guide to help readers understanding the OECD Social Indicator framework. Chapters 2 and three are special thematic chapters to address two increasingly topical issues in the social debate: Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship and Social Protection Expenditure.

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  • Foreword

    This is the third edition of Society at a Glance Asia/Pacific, the OECD’s overview of social indicators for the Asia/Pacific region. The report addresses the growing demand for quantitative evidence on social well-being and its trends across 35 economies in the region. It updates many indicators presented in the two previous editions and introduces several new ones.

  • Acronyms and conventional signs


  • Executive summary

    Gender equality is not just about economic empowerment. It is a moral imperative, it is about fairness and equity, and includes many political, social and cultural dimensions. With a special chapter on gender issues this volume of Society at a Glance Asia/Pacific illustrates the progress that many economies in the Asia/Pacific region have made towards gender equality in education and shows that girls outperform boys in some areas of education. But these gains have not yet fully spilled over to the labour market: women are most likely to work under vulnerable employment conditions, earn less than men, are less likely to make it to the top of the career ladder, and continue to bear the brunt of unpaid housework.

  • Introduction to Society at a Glance Asia/Pacific

    The Society at a Glance Asia/Pacific series provides an example of how OECD frameworks may be used to highlight and illustrate societal progress and social policy issues in the Asia/Pacific region. The purpose of Society at a Glance Asia/Pacific and Society at Glance series more generallyA related OECD publication, How’s Life – Measuring Well-being (OECD, 2013), presents a large set of well-being indicators, with an aim to give an accurate picture of societal well-being and progress. Compared with Society at a Glance, it uses a broader set of outcome measures but excludes indicators of policy responses. is to provide information on two questions:

  • Gender equality in the three Es in the Asia/Pacific region

    The case for gender equality is founded in both human rights and economic arguments. As such, closing gender gaps must be a central part of any strategy to create more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies. In order to identify barriers to greater gender equality and build on its expertise in these areas, the OECD launched its Gender Initiative to help governments promote gender equality in education, employment and entrepreneurship (the three Es – see ). Greater education participation, from an early age onwards, provides better economic opportunities for women by raising the overall level of human capital and labour productivity. Mobilising hitherto underutilised labour supply and ensuring higher female employment will widen the base of taxpayers and contributors to social protection systems which will come under increasing pressure due to population ageing. More gender diversity will help promote innovation and competitiveness in business. Greater economic empowerment of women and greater gender equality in leadership are key components of the OECD’s wider gender initiative to develop policies for stronger, better and fairer growth (OECD, 2011a and 2012a).

  • Looking at social protection globally, in the OECD and in the Asia/Pacific region

    The economic crisis which started in 2007/08 has intensified global interest in social policy and the ability of welfare systems to provide social protection. During the crisis, social protection systems in many countries initially played an important role as automatic stabilisers to cushion the impact of the economic downturn, but subsequently social protection measures, especially income supports to the working-age population have been affected by efforts to cut public spending in the context of fiscal consolidation measures.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts General context indicators

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    • GDP per capita

      Gross domestic product per person (GDP per capita) is the most widely used comparative indicator of economic performance, and its value varies considerably across the Asia/Pacific region (, Panel A). The region includes some of the richest as well as some of the poorest countries in the world (please note the differences in the axis with respect to the values of GDP per capita in the top and bottom parts of , Panel A). Macau (China), Australia, Singapore, Japan and Brunei Darussalam are all economies with a higher GDP per capita than across the OECD on average. By contrast, in 2012 GDP per capita was less than USD 1 000 per person in Cambodia, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Differences in GDP per capita within the Asia/Pacific region are much greater than within the OECD: Australia’s GDP per capita is almost 100 times higher than that of Nepal.

    • Fertility

      The total fertility rate (TFR) gives an indication of the number of children an average woman will have in her lifetime.The size of the population remains stable if the total fertility rate is a little over two, allowing for some mortality during infancy and childhood. This so-called replacement rate is around 2.1 children per women for industrialised countries but it may be higher for poorer countries.

    • Marriage and divorce

      On average marriage rates in the Asia/Pacific region are 50% higher than the average across OECD countries (, Panel A), and there is considerable variation in both marriage and divorce rates across the Asia/Pacific region. Crude marriage rates are highest at over ten marriages per 1 000 adults in the Maldives, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, while the marriage rate is less than half of this in Samoa, New Zealand and Mongolia. The crude divorce rate in the Maldives is also three times higher than the average of the Asia/Pacific economies. Divorce rates are low relative to high marriage rates in Indonesia, -Tajikistan and Viet Nam.

    • International migration

      There is a considerable variation in the share of international migrants in the total population (, Panel A). In Macau (China), Brunei Darussalam, Singapore and Hong Kong (China), Australia and New Zealand more than one-quarter of the population was foreign born (please note the differences in the axis regarding the population shares of migrants in the top and bottom parts of , Panel A). In China and Indonesia – countries with considerable internal migration – the population share of international migrants was negligible at less than 0.1% of the total population in 2013.

    • Old-age support ratio

      In 2012, economies in the Asia/Pacific region on average had ten people of working age for every person over 65 (, Panel A).This is more than twice as high as the OECD’s average. Papua New Guinea, Mongolia and Tajikistan top the list with at least 16 working-age persons per one person of pension age, a stark contrast to Japan’s 2:1 ratio. Within the Asia/Pacific region, OECD countries such as Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have the smallest old-age support ratio in comparison to non-OECD countries. In these countries life expectancy is high (), and particularly in Japan and Korea fertility rates are low (). This has contributed to an intermittent decline in the Japanese working-age population since 1995, while the Korean working-age population is projected to decline from 2018 onwards.

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Self-sufficiency indicators

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    • Labour force participation

      Richer countries tend to have higher labour force participation rates,with all four OECD countries having rates greater than the Asia/Pacific average; the OECD average is 6 percentage points above the Asia/Pacific average of 69% (). The highest participation rates are observed in Cambodia, Japan, Nepal and New Zealand with rates greater than 80% in 2012. Labour force participation rates are low, at below 60%, in Armenia, Hong Kong (China), India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste. In many countries labour force participation rates among older workers are relatively close to those for the total population, while rates for younger workers are significantly lower: on average across the region participation rates are 69% for the total population; 63% for older workers and 49% for younger workers. Participation rates are lowest for young people in Korea as related to a high level of educational attainment (see "".

    • Employment

      High employment rates are found in Nepal and the Southeast Asian economies of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam, with rates above the OECD average of 74.7%(, Panel A). The Asia/Pacific average is almost 10 percentage points below the OECD average, at 64.9%, with employment rates being particularly low in Fiji, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (below 55%).

    • Early childhood education and care

      Public support for early childhood education and care services helps achieve a range of policy goals. Public investment in ECEC simultaneously enhances child development and helps children acquire the necessary skills to support their future lives, while it also supports parents in their daily quest to balance work and family commitments. As women traditionally engage most in care work, such supports particularly facilitate female labour force participation and are thus crucial to achieving greater gender equality in employment participation.

    • Educational attainment and student performance

      The level of education of the population gives an indication of its stock of human capital.A higher stock of human capital means higher labour productivity and hence higher income-generating capacity. The average number of years spent in education among the working-age population is the most readily available and cross-nationally comparable measures of on educational attainment across the Asia/Pacific region.

    • Education spending

      Public spending on education reflects society’s investment in children to equip them with fundamental social and economic skills needed to be self-sufficient in life. Investing in education reduces poverty and boosts economic growth through human capital development, and is most efficient, in terms of long-term costs and benefits to society, and effective, in terms of human capital development, when investment starts during the early years and continues throughout childhood (see Early childhood education and care).

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  • Expand / Collapse Hide / Show all Abstracts Equity indicators

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    • Poverty

      Among low- and middle-income countries in the Asia/Pacific region, 35% of the population is poor, and 14% is extremely poor (, Panel A). More than 60% of the population live in poverty in India, Lao PDR and Pakistan; the country with the highest poverty rate is Bangladesh, where more than 75% of the population live on less than USD 2 a day. Among the low- and middle-income countries, poverty levels are lowest in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Thailand.

    • Income inequality

      Income inequality indicates how material resources are distributed across society. Some consider high levels of income inequality to be morally undesirable. Many view income inequality negatively because it can cause conflict, limit co-operation or create psychological and ultimately physical stresses. Often the policy concern is more for the direction of changes in inequality, rather than for its level.

    • Pensions: coverage and replacement rates

      The proportion of people covered by a pension scheme and the extent to which pensions replace previous earnings are two important indicators of the role pension systems play in society. There is huge variation of pension coverage in the Asia/Pacific region: in Australia and Japan the -pension system covers over 90% of the labour force while coverage is very low in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste (, Panel A). On average, coverage of formal -pension systems is much lower in the Asia/Pacific region than in OECD countries, which suggests that now as in the future, the elderly in the Asia/Pacific region will have to rely on family support to meet their needs, much more than their peers in OECD countries.

    • Public social expenditure

      In 2009, public social expenditure-to-GDP ratios varied considerably across the Asia/Pacific region, but were generally well below the OECD average (, Panel A). Average social protection spending in the Asia/Pacific region was about one-third of the average in the OECD as a whole. Public social spending in Japan, New -Zealand and Australia is around 20% of GDP, and around 10% of GDP or more in Korea, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia and Timor-Leste. By contrast, public spending on social protection is around 2% of GDP in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR and Pakistan.

    • Solidarity

      Making donations to charities, doing voluntary work or helping strangers are all examples of showing compassion to others, contribute to the functioning of society and/or supporting the disadvantaged. Income levels can to some extent explain observed differences between countries, but different traditions regarding the supportive role of the state, the community and the family are also important.

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    • Life expectancy at birth

      Life expectancy at birth continues to rise in the Asia/Pacific region, averaging about 72 years in 2011 up from 61 years in 1980 (, Panel A). At over 20 years on average across the population the largest increases in life expectancy since 1980 were recorded for Lao PDR, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. This rapid increase is related to a number of factors, including rising living standards, better nutrition, water and sanitation, increased education and greater access to health services. Nevertheless, despite the significant gains in the Asia/Pacific region, it still lags behind the other world regions except Africa (UN World Population Prospects data, 2010). On average in 2011, the population in OECD countries outlived the Asia/Pacific economies by eight years.

    • Infant and child mortality

      Infant mortality is a central indicator of infant health. It reflects the effect of economic and social conditions on the health of mothers and new-borns, as well as the effectiveness of health systems. Around two-thirds of the deaths that occur during the first year of life in the region are neonatal. Neonatal mortality is increasingly important because the proportion of neonatal death is increasing as under-five mortality declines (UNICEF, 2013, Child Mortality Report). Factors such as the health of mothers, maternal care and birth weight are important determinants of infant mortality. Diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition in both mothers and babies are the causes of many deaths.

    • Low birth weight

      Birth weight is a strong indicator of maternal health care and nutritional status as well as new-born’s chances for survival, growth, long-term health and psychosocial development. Babies who are undernourished in the womb are in great risk of dying during their early months and years. Those who do survive are likely to have an increased risk of disease, an impaired immune system and remain undernourished throughout their lives. Children born underweight are also likely to have cognitive disabilities (Sutton and Darmstadt, 2013). Poor nutrition both before and during pregnancy is recognized as an important cause of low birth weight. Research has shown that improved food quality and quantity consumption during pregnancy effectively reduces low birth weight. Other factors such as infections, hypertension, smoking, poverty and poor socio-economic status also affect birth weight.

    • Health expenditure

      Financial resources for health are unevenly distributed geographically. Among low income countries in the Asia/Pacific region, health spending per capita ranged from USD 25 in Myanmar to USD 385 in Thailand in 2012 (, Panel A). There is a significant expenditure discrepancy between OECD and the Asia/Pacific economies and countries. On average, OECD countries on a per capita basis spend five times more than in the Asia/Pacific economies and countries – USD 3 514 versus USD 756.

    • Hospital care

      Hospital bed availability varies across the Asia/Pacific region.Japan has about 13 beds for every 1 000 people, while in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Pakistan this is just over half a bed per 1 000 people. On average the Asia/Pacific region has four beds per 1 000 people, one less than in the OECD (, Panel A).

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    • Life satisfaction

      Life satisfaction represents people’s subjective evaluation of their satisfaction with life as a whole. Life satisfaction is associated with good family relationships, health, living conditions and wealth as well as confidence in governance in the broader society.

    • Confidence in institutions

      A cohesive society is one where citizens have confidence in national-level institutions and believe that social and economic institutions are not prey to corruption. Confidence and corruption issues are dimensions that are strongly related to societal trust.

    • Trust and safety

      Trust and safety in a society reflects the extent to which people feel that their freedom of movement and their property are protected. A high level of personal trust and safety can promote openness and transparency in society, social interaction and cohesion.

    • Tolerance

      The degree of community acceptance of minority groups is a measurable dimension of social cohesion.Acceptance of three such groups is considered here: migrants, ethnic minorities and gay and lesbian people.

    • Voting

      A high voter turnout is a sign that a country’s political system enjoys a strong degree of participation. Voter turnout rates vary hugely across the region (, Panel A). Over eight in every ten people turn out to vote in parliamentary elections in Viet Nam, Papua New Guinea, and Lao PDR, compared to less than one in every two people in Azerbaijan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Pakistan, the three lowest turnouts in the region. In all other countries for which there is data on voting turnout in parliamentary elections, more than half of the eligible population votes.

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