Executive summary

Society at a Glance: Asia/Pacific 2022 presents 26 key indicators on general socio-economic context, self-sufficiency, equity, health and social cohesion for 38 countries and territories in Asia and the Pacific.

Real GDP growth across the Asia/Pacific region fell markedly with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020: growth rates in real GDP fell from 6% to 2.3% in China, and India, Indonesia, Japan and Korea all recorded a decline in GDP for 2020. Growth in GDP bounced back in 2021, and is forecast to remain strong in 2022 and 2023. Annual growth rates for China, India and the Asean countries were all projected to be in excess of 5% for 2022 and 2023 (Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2022). However, the war in Ukraine is expected to reduce global economic growth by about 1% in 2022 (OECD Economic Outlook, Interim Report March 2022).

Strong economic growth across Asia and the Pacific over the past 20 years has substantially reduced extreme poverty; the share of people living with incomes below USD 1.90 per day has fallen from over 22% in 2000 to just below 5% in 2019 on average across the Asia/Pacific region. The gap in the income distribution between the richest and the poorest 10% of the population in the Asia/Pacific economies has declined over time, but it remains twice as large as the average for OECD countries.

Social protection systems are underdeveloped in most countries of the region. Public social expenditure across Asia and the Pacific was just 7% of GDP in 2018/9, compared with 20% of GDP, on average, in the OECD countries. The redistributive power of social spending is limited as most social benefits concern payments to (former) workers with a formal employment contracts – a group that is relatively well-off compared to those in the informal sector. Informal employment continues to prevail in Asia and the Pacific, and these workers do not have access to social insurance benefits.

Population ageing is an another important policy challenge, particularly in North East Asia, where rapid increases in life expectancy and even more rapid declines in fertility have resulted in the fastest rates of population ageing in history. By 2060 it is estimated that at least 20% of the population in Asia/Pacific economies will be aged 65 or older. In Korea, this is projected to concern 40% of the population by 2060: the highest proportion of all countries in the region.

At present only one in three persons of retirement age is covered by mandatory pension schemes in the Asia/Pacific region. This means that the elderly in the region will have to rely more on family support to meet their needs than their peers in OECD countries. To prevent increases in old-age poverty the gaps in social protection systems need to be addressed soon.

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