Has Vietnam squandered its demographic advantage?

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A woman carrying a basket of pork walks past a barber reading the newspaper while waiting for customers on a street in Hanoi. The country has failed to take the advantage of its huge workforce and the population is aging, demographers warn. PHOTO: REUTERS

Vietnam's population is aging rapidly and it has failed to effectively utilize its so-called "golden population" structure when a majority of the population is in the economically productive age, experts said at a conference to review implementation of the Population Ordinance on September 23.

"In 2007 Vietnam achieved the peak of its population's golden age, which happens only once in any country, but it has not been adequately studied or made use of," Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Viet Tien said.

In that year the country had more than 61 million people of working age, or 69 percent of the population. Demographers define the golden age as the time when the number of people of working age (between 15-64) make up at least two thirds of the population.

In April last year the country's population was 88.78 million and this is expected to reach 90 million next November.

Demographers warn that the golden age will end in 2017.

According to a report released at the conference, Vietnam's average age has risen rapidly due to rising life expectancy and declining birth rates.

The average life expectancy now is 73 while the population growth has slowed down from 1.17 percent to 1.06 percent since 2002.

Vietnam has the 13th largest population in the world and third biggest in Southeast Asia.

"Rapid aging and worsening gender imbalance threaten bad socioeconomic and security consequences," Tien said.

Many officials said the 2003 Population Ordinance has many shortcomings including a lack of severe penalty for gender selection.

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