Aging workforce threatens Thailand's productivity and development, says ILO report

This study is released to coincide with Thailand's National Day for Older Persons on April 13.

Press release | 13 April 2009

(ILO Bangkok) Thailand’s population is ageing faster than any other in Southeast Asia except Singapore, a process that will affect the country’s productivity and socio-economic development, according to a new study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), “Decent work for older persons in Thailand”.

The study is being released to coincide with Thailand’s National Day for Older Persons on April 13. It found that more people – both men and women - over the age of 60 are now continuing to work, although often in unfavourable working conditions with insecure incomes and limited social protection. The data also suggest that the daily or hourly wages that older people receive are much lower than those of other employed people, and that the majority of older people consider their incomes to be insufficient.

The report cautions that, going by the experiences of other countries in the region with similar demographics, it is likely that the labour market consequences of this shift will affect Thailand’s productivity and socio-economic development.

The proportion of people over 60 in Thailand more than doubled between 1975 and 2007, from about five percent of the population to 11 percent (or 7.2 million people). The cause was a decline in both mortality and fertility. According to the report, by 2025 almost one in five of the Thai population will be over 60 and by 2050 it will be approaching one in three.

The “feminization of ageing” is also accelerating. The difference between the percentage of women and men over 60 in the population is projected to rise from 9.4 percentage points in 2000 to 10.8 in 2025 and 11.8 in 2050. There are also regional variations, with the North and Northeast seeing a particularly rapid rise; possible explanations for this include the migration of younger people to urban areas, HIV/AIDS and changes in family support.

Older people, particularly in rural areas, are particularly susceptible to poverty. Ninety percent of the over 60’s work in the informal economy and the trend is particularly strong in rural areas and the North and Northeast. Nearly two-thirds are own account workers (meaning they work for themselves, sometimes with a partner, but don’t employ others), more than twice the proportion of the employed population overall. More than 14 per cent of older people are classified as living in so-called expenditure poverty (when the level of expenditure is below the poverty line) compared to 9.6 percent of the total population. The majority of older workers work more than 50 hours a week, the same hours as younger workers, although they receive much lower wages.

The report was co-written by Rika Fujioka, of the ILO’s Regional Economic and Social Analysis Unit in Bangkok, and Sopon Thangphet, Policy and Plan Analyst with the Northern Regional Economic and

Social Development Office, National Economic and Social Development Board, Thailand.

“This report confirms the importance of promoting decent work for older persons”, said Ms Fujioka. “Thailand is experiencing unparalleled growth of its older population. The number of over 65’s will double in only 20 years, something that took 85 years in Sweden and 115 years in France”.

“The implications of such a rapid change are not yet fully understood. What’s more, their vulnerability means that older persons are likely to be among those most severely affected by the current financial crisis. These are issues that policy makers must address”.

The report makes a number of recommendations:

  • Promoting employment opportunities for older persons is both timely and indispensible for enhancing Thailand’s productivity and socio-economic development. This could include raising awareness among private sector employers of the potential and skills of older workers, more flexible retirement schemes, incentives to support retraining and re-employment, and more opportunities for older people to enhance their skills.
  • Expanding the sectors where older people can find work. Many currently work in agriculture but other potential sectors include commerce, manufacturing, transport, storage, communications and, in rural areas, community-based cottage industries.
  • Reducing their vulnerability. Increasing the income-generating potential of older people is essential, to mitigate the large gap between the over 60’s and younger workers.
  • Reinforcing and enhancing current social security schemes, including community-based schemes to supplement private and public systems.
  • More understanding of the issue as well as improving information gathering and data collection to support better policy making. This could include engaging employers and workers organizations, community groups and others in policy-making, and looking at the experiences of other countries in the region.

Copies of the report can be found at, on the Research and Data page.

For more information please contact:

Krisdaporn Singhaseni

Information Officer, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (Bangkok)

Tel. 02 288 1664

Mob: 081 624 1399

Sopon Thangphet

National Economic and Social Development Board

Tel: 053 221 600

Mob: 081 035 6702