How Aging Can Spark Innovation-Driven Growth in Thailand

Thailand is an aging society and transitioning to a super aged society, a fact we all know well. We often view the aging trend as a bogeyman that will come in the middle of the night to snatch our economic growth and destroy the viability of our social safety nets. Thailand, to be sure, needs to rethink social policies and programs to manage its aging population, but this doesn’t necessarily spell doom and gloom for businesses and the economy.

Research from our partner the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill paints aging not so much as a trend to fear, but rather to embrace because business opportunities abound, so long as entrepreneurs and business leaders can strategically adapt their products and services to match the demands of seniors. Seniors and pre-seniors, after all, are by no means a niche market. Baby boomers (individuals born between 1946-1964) form a U.S. $15 trillion global market, approximately the same size as the economies of China and Germany combined.

aging trend, aging society

In a white paper called “Aging as an Engine of Innovation, Business Development, and Employment Growth,” authors Jim Johnson, Allan Parnell, and Huan Lian described four BIG opportunities related to aging that are waiting for forward-thinking entrepreneurs and business leaders to tap into or solve.

1. The Innovation Challenge: Designing new products and services for seniors isn’t easy, and most innovations fall short because they focus on a narrow market segment, the so called “rich and young at heart.” Very little has been done to support poor elderly. It is important to remember that seniors are not a homogenous group, but rather one with diverse worldviews, behaviors, and tastes. The authors emphasize that all senior-conscious innovations should be driven by two factors: empathy and autonomy.

2. Booming Purchasing Power: Older adults make up a trillion-dollar (and growing) global market. Designing products and services that empathize with seniors and help them maintain autonomy, however, is not enough to tap into this massive market; producers also need to “develop meaningful and respectful relations with older adult customers.” This means that marketing and advertising efforts should reflect an understanding of the diverse perspectives of seniors. The authors recommend hiring older adults on marketing teams to better connect with seniors.

3. Demand for Senior Care Workers: The growing senior population will create a significant number of jobs for caregivers. The United States, for example, is expected to need 1.2 million new senior care workers by 2025. This demand will lead to good and meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with limited education and skills.

4. Fixing Spaces and Places: When societies age, demand for all types of infrastructure (residential, commercial, and public spaces) rises, as facilities need to be revamped to accommodate the needs of the elderly. The authors point out that “it is almost certainly cheaper to invest in age-friendly designs and modifications than it is to pay for falls-related litigation and/or to cover the cost of hospitalizations, rehabilitation services, and long-term services and supports.” Aging society presents a great impetus to fix crumbling infrastructures and build spaces that benefit all, young and old alike.

Although the whitepaper focuses on the U.S. context, it is instructive of the type of thinking that policymakers and entrepreneurs in Thailand can use to address the needs of the growing elderly population. Furthermore, the authors prescribe a much needed dose of optimism regarding an issue that is too often viewed as a threat. Their conclusion that “aging can be a major source of both economic and social value creation” holds just as true for Thailand as it does for America.

The whitepaper can be downloaded for free here. The authors later expanded upon this whitepaper and published a full article with the same title in the summer 2018 edition of the Economic Development Journal.

To learn more about our work to build a strong and innovative aging society in Thailand, visit www.kenan-asia.org/nextgen-aging.

Kenan Asia

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