Population and the Generational Economy


12th NTA Global Conference
The 12th NTA Global Conference featured presentations and panel discussions by scholars from 32 countries around the world. The conference was held in Mexico City in July 2018.

In all modern societies, there are extended periods of dependency at the beginning and the end of life—children and the elderly consume more resources than they produce through their own labor, while working-age adults produce more than they consume. What makes this economic lifecycle possible is the flow of resources across generations through a complex of social, economic, and political institutions. This universal pattern raises important questions for economic planners and policymakers.

How much do people at every age earn, and how much do they consume? How do they acquire and use economic resources to meet their current needs, to support others, and to provide for the future? How do young and old people support themselves—do they rely on their families, on taxpayers through government programs, or in the case of the elderly, on their own savings and investment? And how will the shifts in population age structure that result from changing fertility and mortality rates affect economic growth and the wellbeing of people in all age groups?

Demographic change poses special challenges for policymakers:

  • Can improvements in child health and education lead to a more productive workforce even as the proportion of workers in the population declines?
  • As elderly populations expand, will public pension and healthcare programs be sustainable?
  • Will tax payers be able—and willing—to provide financial support for growing numbers of old people?
  • Will the expansion of elderly populations slow economic growth?
  • What are the likely impacts of population aging on inequality?
  • And how can countries take full advantage of demographic dividends—the economic benefits that arise from changes in population age structure due to declining fertility?

Research teams working within the National Transfer Accounts (NTA) network are bringing together data for more than 80 countries around the world and developing analytical tools that will help answer these and other important policy questions. The Counting Women's Work (CWW) project within the NTA network is expanding this analysis to take account of the full economic role of women, including unpaid work in the home and care of children, the elderly, and other community members.

One of the unique features of the NTA project is the development of a unified framework for studying intergenerational economic issues in widely varying cultural, social, political, economic, and demographic contexts. As research teams improve estimates and expand coverage to additional countries and broader time periods, NTA will increasingly be able to provide analysis of sufficient geographic scope and historical depth to support important insights into changing demographic patterns and the effects of public policy.

The NTA Bulletin presents research results to policymakers.

NTA results have been published in more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and special reports. Key publications have included the National Transfer Accounts manual: Measuring and analyzing the generational economy, published in 2013 by the United Nations Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Population aging and the generational economy: A global perspective, published in 2011 by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and Edward Elgar; and Is low fertility really a problem? Population aging, dependency, and consumption, published in 2014 in the journal Science. NTA also produces it's own publication series aimed specifically at policy audiences, the NTA Bulletin.

Support for the NTA project has been provided by the National Institute on Aging: NIA, R24 AG04505, NIA, R37-AG025488 and NIA, R01-AG025247; the International Development Research Centre (IDRC); the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, Bloomberg School of Public Health; the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); United Nations Population Division; Asian Development Bank; the World Bank; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the European Science Foundation; the European Commission; and the Academic Frontier Project for Private Universities: matching fund subsidy from MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), 2006-10, granted to the Nihon University Population Research Institute.

NTA regions and participating countries

Africa: Benin, Brukina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo

The Americas: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, United States, Uruguay

Asia-Pacific: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Vietnam

Europe: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom

The NTA network is governmed by an Executive Council. The Chair is East-West Center Senior Fellow Sang-Hyop Lee, and the Vice-Chair is Gretchen Donehower with the Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging, University of California at Berkeley (CEDA). Founding Directors are Ronald D. Lee, with CEDA and Andrew Mason, Senior Fellow with the East-West Center. The East-West Center and Berkeley's Center for the Economics and Demography of Aging serve as the global centers of the NTA network.

Research teams are conducting NTA analysis that covers more than 80 countries around the world.

Regional NTA Activities in Asia

Many countries in Asia have enjoyed a first demographic dividend. This was because fertility decline lowered the proportion of dependent children in their populations compared with the proportion of workers, which has the potential to accelerate growth in per capita income. Countries in East Asia were particularly successful in realizing large demographic dividends, in part because their fertility decline was so rapid. However, the connection between the demographic dividend and economic growth is not automatic. The magnitude of the benefit depends, among other things, on the ability of an economy to absorb and productively employ the large influx of young workers born during previous periods of high fertility.  

East Asian countries and some Southeast Asian countries are far along in their demographic transition and are now beginning to experience rapid population aging. Responses to population aging can lead to very different economic outcomes. There are concerns about slow economic growth due to a large dependent old-age population or low saving rates. Fiscal problems are another concern because tax revenues may not keep pace with entitlement programs such as public pensions and publicly funded healthcare. Limited participation of older people in the labor market makes them particularly vulnerable to poverty, poor access to healthcare, and other risks. Adverse consequences of population aging will be offset, however, if workers increase saving to cover longer life expectancy and if economies enjoying a first demographic dividend increase investment in human and physical capital to improve productivity. These responses to population change, and others, may lead to a second demographic dividend, which can be large and long lasting.

Research groups in 18 Asian economies are producing National Transfer Accounts that provide critical information for policymakers addressing the economic impact of demographic change. These are Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Lao People’s Demographic Republic (PDR), Malaysia, the Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan Province of China, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.

Recent Publications

Abrigo, Michael R.M., Sang-Hyop Lee, and Donghyun Park (2018). Human capital spending, inequality, and growth in middle-income Asia. Emerging Markets Finance and Trade. 54(6): 1285-1303. This article is also available as Asian Development Bank Economics Working Paper 529.

East-West Center (2017). Will population aging squeeze government budgets? A look at Japan and the United States. East-West Wire. 2 October 2017.

Gal, Robert Ivan, Pieter Vanhuysse, and Lili Vargha (2018). Pro-elderly welfare states within child-oriented societies. Journal of European Public Policy. 25(6): 944-58. This article was republished as Chapter Nine in Marius R. Busemeyer, Caroline de la Porte, Julian L. Garritzmann, and Emmanuele Pavolini, eds. (2018) The future of the social investment state: Politics, policies, and outcomes. London: Routledge.

Ha, Joonkyung, and Sang-Hyop Lee (2018). Population aging and the possibility of a middle-income trap in Asia. Emerging Markets Finance and Trade. 54(6): 1225-38. This article is also available as Asian Development Bank Economics Working Paper 536.

Mason, Andrew, and Ronald Lee (2018). Intergenerational transfers and the older population. In National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Future directions for the demography of aging: Proceedings of a workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, pp.187-214.

Matsukura, Rikiya, Satoshi Shimizutani, Nahoko Mitsuyama, Sang-Hyop Lee, and Naohiro Ogawa (2018 in press). Untapped work capacity among old persons and their potential contributions to the silver dividend in Japan. The Journal of the Economics of Ageing.

Narayana, M.R. (2018). Organizing old age pensions for India’s unorganized workers: A case study of a sector-driven approach. The Journal of the Economics of Ageing. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeoa.2018.04.001.

Key Older Publications

Lee, Ronald, Andrew Mason, and members of the NTA network (2014). Is low fertility really a problem? Population aging, dependency, and consumption. Science. 346:229-34. DOI: 10.1126/science.1250542.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2013). National Transfer Accounts manual: Measuring and analyzing the generational economy. New York: United Nations Population Division.

Lee, Ronald, and Andrew Mason, lead authors and editors (2011). Population aging and the generational economy: A global perspective. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

NTA Bulletin

What do we learn when we "Count Women's Work"?  NTA Bulletin No.13. March 2018.

Sharing the demographic dividend: Findings from low- and middle-income countries in Asia. NTA Bujlletin No. 12. December 2017.

Counting women's work: Measuring the gendered economy in the market and at home. NTA Bulletin No. 11. January 2017.

Population change and the economnic security of older people in Asia. NTA Bulletin No. 10, September 2016.

National Transfer Accounts and demographic dividends. NTA Bulletin No. 9, July 2016.

Population change and economic growth in Asia: New findings from the National Transfer Accounts (NTA) project. NTA Bulletin No. 8, November 2015.

Human-resource development and demographic change in China. NTA Bulletin No. 7, October 2014.

Population change and economic growth in Africa. NTA Bulletin No. 6, August 2013.

Lower-income countries and the demographic dividend. NTA Bulletin No. 5, December 2012.

How well do societies meet the consumption needs of all age groups? NTA Bulletin No. 4, June 2012.

The economic consequences of population aging: Report on a technical policy seminar. NTA Bulletin No. 3, December 2011.

Transferring resources between age groups: What roles do governments play? NTA Bulletin No. 2, May 2011.

National Transfer Accounts: A new way to look at population change and economic growth. NTA Bulletin No. 1, January 2011 (revised September 2011).

See all current East-West Center Research Projects.