Demography Now

A robotics company has taken over 1,000 orders for a $2500 robot that can provide medication reminders, call family and friends, and even entertain people with mad karaoke skills. This would not be such a surprise if the company was Sony, but this robot maker and half the buyers are in Thailand. According to the company’s CEO, the medical community – stretched to the limit by aging populations – has responded positively to the idea of robots performing routine monitoring and reporting tasks. It’s less clear how grandma will feel about her new robot helper.

Tech companies are avidly pursuing advanced solutions in robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, and other areas. The technology is often mind-boggling, but the use cases can be a little cloudy, or the focus is squarely on mature-market needs. Robot health assistants may or may not find a mass market, but between karaoke songs they can recite these demographic statistics: East Asia and the Pacific are home to 211 million people aged 65+ (including 130 million in China alone). This accounts for 36% of the global population in that age group. The older population in this region will grow by over 20% every five years in the coming decades. This “age bulge” is already increasing household expenditures and putting enormous pressure on public service providers. The Thai government, for example, estimates families spend around a third of their income caring for older relatives, and healthcare spending is predicted to jump from 4.5% to 7% of GDP in a decade.

For tech companies looking beyond mature markets, there is an opportunity to design for regional demographic trends. In Asia, there is an age bulge, but in Africa, there is a “youth bulge.” In both regions, women live longer than men, raising issues of social and economic protections for older women. These demographic trends have implications for product development, marketing, resource allocation, and other business functions. HP named “changing demographics” as one of four megatrends that will shape business in the 21st century (along with urbanization, hyper-globalization, and accelerated innovation). If companies apply this foresight to emerging markets, and figure out a way to match cutting-edge technology with demographic trends, they’ll time the market right and find some bona fide buyers for their gee-whiz technologies.

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