China will be the "oldest" of four key emerging economies by 2050, and the country's insurers must move quickly to take advantage of the challenges and opportunities of aging, according to a report released by The Boston Consulting Group and Swiss Re on Tuesday.
The study, From Silver to Gold: How Insurers Can Capitalize on Aging in China, examines the aging dynamics in China, including challenges for the social security system.
China's "demographic dividend", which has driven growth for decades, is approaching an end as many in the workforce near retirement.
As early as 2015, the working age population - those who are 15 to 59 years old - will begin to decline. The segment of people 60 years of age and above will grow rapidly from about 165 million in 2010 to as high as nearly 440 million by 2050, accounting for roughly 34 percent of the population, according to BCG.
"By 2050, China will be most 'aged' among BRIC countries with a much larger 60-and-over population size," said Robert Wiest, president of Swiss Re China.
It will be difficult for the social security system to cope with this change, the study said.
"In the pension system, the mandatory social insurance scheme's benefits might not keep pace with the rising cost of living while the voluntary pension schemes are underdeveloped," said Jia Jingwei, head of China business development at Swiss Re.
Traditional family support networks are weakening because of mass urbanization and the 4-2-1 - four grandparents, two parents, one child - family structure.
In the healthcare system, the scope of treatments, services and medicines remains limited and there is a shortage of long-term care, the research showed.
"China's ability to deal with these challenges will have a significant impact on its prosperity level for decades to come," said Richard Huang, a BCG partner based in Beijing.
Jia said the government, employers and insurers have to work together to meet the challenges posed by the aging population.
"Insurance companies, in particular, will need to play a larger role," Jia said, adding that insurers should drive and support regulatory reforms, including the development of complementary pension and healthcare insurance markets.
"Considering the scale of the Chinese population, the rapid growth of the (aged) segment will pose unprecedented challenges and opportunities for insurers," said Chris Kaye, a BCG partner based in Hong Kong.
"Insurance companies that take correct and prompt actions can turn the silver segment into 'gold', which means new revenue streams and higher profits."