According to recent government data, nearly one third of South Koreans will be aged 65 or older by 2040. An increase in a country's elderly population can have serious implications especially if there is a decrease in the birthrate, as is the case in South Korea. This situation results in a shortage in the workforce with an imbalance between the larger economically inactive population and the smaller economically active population. Statistics Korea, a state-run statistics agency, said in a press statement that by 2040 "every 1.7 working people will have to bankroll one senior citizen."
An increase in a country's aging population can also affect the sustainability of healthcare systems and pensions. This arguably is the most pressing challenge facing aging societies as fiscal burden and public debt rise due to the sharp increase of pension, health, and long-term care spending.
The issue of an aging population is not only affecting South Korea, but also most of the developed world and increasingly, developing countries. Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Italy, and Germany are facing major demographic shifts with Japan being the first "super aging society" with more than one-third of the population being over 65 years of age by the year 2030.
By 2050, seniors will be approaching 20% of the population in developing countries overall.
This issue also hits close to home in the U.S. with the population of adults over the age of 65 projected to grow to be 21% of the U.S. population by 2040 and to more than double to 92 million by 2060, according to the American Administration on Aging.
Kyoungseon Kim, a visiting scholar at the School of Business, hopes her research can shed some light on how information and communications technology (ICT) can help alleviate aging issues in society. Kim is visiting from Seoul, South Korea, where she is the bureau director for the Ministry of Employment and Labor.
As a bureau director, Kim focuses on policy and monitoring the implementation of statutes. She also served as the spokesperson of ministry, speaking on the ministry's services and programs, as well as current labor issues.
Her research sabbatical at Mason is made possible by the Korea Government Overseas Research Fellowship she received to conduct research on the possibilities of addressing some of the current and upcoming challenges faced by countries with rapidly aging societies. Her research focuses on applying information and communications technology to keep seniors engaged in a society and to promote inclusivity. She is hosted by the School of Business' MS in Technology Management program and the information systems and operations management area.
In a rapidly aging society, the role of information and communications technology becomes more important than ever.
According to Kim, "efficient and compensatory technology allows seniors to be a part of the workforce for a longer period of time or be able to work from home." The ability for individuals to continue to work to an older age can help maintain a country's economic growth.
Apart from helping individuals contribute to the workforce for a longer period of time, information and communications technology can also impact a senior's overall quality of life by improving their healthcare, social engagement and inclusion, and emotional and mental health. Kim explains that technology can help seniors stay living in their homes longer, "aging in place," and can contribute to development of "livable communities."
As examples, assistive robots to augment nursing care are being developed and piloted in Japan, and the Internet not only can provide connections for medical and health monitoring utilizing new sensor capabilities, but can also provide connections to family and friends so that seniors stay engaged and have a lower risk of social isolation.
Kim's research also delves into the emergent "silver economy," where promising industries—such as healthcare, tourism, telecommunications, and financial services—target the growing elderly population. As baby boomers enter the age of retirement, they have emerged as big consumers. Their needs can serve as a boost to the economy. Kim is also examining what kind of regulations can prevent the growth of the "silver economy."
"There are many regulations which might deter the development of information and communications technology in these areas," says Kim. "For example, in South Korea's healthcare industry patients cannot be diagnosed remotely." Kim hopes her research might be able to influence these types of policies and regulations.
"I think the 'silver economy' can turn the challenge of aging into an opportunity," states Kim. "To promote the 'silver economy,' there needs to be cooperation between the government and private sectors."
In her position at the Ministry of Employment and Labor, Kim's research can also inform policy affecting older adults in the workforce and retirees, such as job-placement, programs, and training services.
"I will take charge of supervising the implementation of statutes which stipulate the employment protection for older workers and promotion of hiring of seniors," says Kim.
Along with reporting her findings back to the South Korean government, Kim hopes her research will have a global influence. She will present at an upcoming conference on IT and aging society hosted by the School of Business in the spring of 2014.
J.P. Auffret, director of the MS in Technology Management program, has been working closely with Kim and is responsible for coordinating the conference. Auffret also contributes to the research on IT and aging society in his work with the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperative (APEC) and has completed co-editing a recently released book, "Aging Society and ICT: Global Silver Innovation" with Toshio Obi and Naoko Iwasaki of Waseda University. The book presents articles from a recently held joint APEC and OECD conference on the different issues associated with an aging population and discusses how to mobilize innovation and research in this area.
"There are challenges for governments and individuals in aging societies," says Auffret, "and innovation, technology and IT will play a significant role in overcoming these challenges."