El­derly are key play­ers in de­vel­op­ment

Older peo­ple can be em­pow­ered to fo­cus decades of ex­pe­ri­ence and wis­dom to stim­u­late new eco­nomic growth

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - By SHAMSHAD AKHTAR

As the num­ber of el­derly peo­ple in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion in­creases ex­po­nen­tially, we must seek new and in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to turn this de­mo­graphic trend into an op­por­tu­nity to help achieve the am­bi­tious tar­gets of the United Na­tions’ 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment.

The num­ber of el­derly peo­ple in the re­gion is ex­pected to more than dou­ble, from 535 mil­lion in 2015 to about 1.3 bil­lion by 2050. We need to con­sider what ef­fects this will have on the re­gion’s economies and so­ci­eties, as well as peo­ple’s liveli­hoods. Ig­nor­ing this chal­lenge would likely have pro­found con­se­quences.

We can­not leave the care of the aged to their fam­i­lies; nor can we ig­nore the need for pro­gres­sive health­care and in­come sup­port sys­tems. Fu­ture eco­nomic growth can­not be as­sured by the cur­rent and pro­jected work­ing age pop­u­la­tion. The ra­tio of the work­ing age pop­u­la­tion to the el­derly pop­u­la­tion is de­creas­ing sharply and in most coun­tries of the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, less than one-third of the work­ing age pop­u­la­tion con­trib­utes to a pen­sion.

Tra­di­tional sys­tems rely on the fam­ily to sup­port their ag­ing rel­a­tives – both fi­nan­cially as well as pro­vid­ing care for those who need it. How­ever, with smaller fam­i­lies, there will be fewer fam­ily mem­bers of work­ing age to shoul­der this re­spon­si­bil­ity. De­clin­ing fam­ily sup­port ra­tios also have im­pli­ca­tions for ex­ist­ing so­cial se­cu­rity pro­vi­sion, par­tic­u­larly pay-as-you-go pen­sion plans, un­der which the con­tri­bu­tions paid by cur­rent work­ers sup­port the pen­sions of re­tirees.

When one con­sid­ers the dif­fer­ences in the av­er­age age at mar­riage, cou­pled with the longer life ex­pectancy of women, women out­live their spouses on av­er­age by a range of four to 10 years. Yet, as the pro­por­tion of women in the pop­u­la­tion in­creases with age, women are less likely than men to have ad­e­quate pen­sion ben­e­fits or con­trol over as­sets, such as land, in their old age. Spe­cial so­cial pro­tec­tion mea­sures are there­fore re­quired to re­dress the fem­i­niza­tion of poverty, in par­tic­u­lar among older women.

There is a lin­ear re­la­tion­ship — although not a causal­ity — between GDP per capita and the level of pop­u­la­tion ag­ing, which shows that coun­tries with higher in­comes tend to be more ad­vanced in the ag­ing process. Some coun­tries be­came old be­fore be­com­ing rich, such as Ge­or­gia, Ar­me­nia and Sri Lanka, with per capita in­comes between $3,500 (2,960 eu­ros; £2,650) and $4,100 and a pro­por­tion of older peo­ple between 13 and al­most 20 per­cent.

To eco­nom­i­cally ben­e­fit from our ag­ing pop­u­la­tions, we must en­sure that the el­derly who want to work have the right to do so and are pro­vided with op­por­tu­ni­ties for re-em­ploy­ment. The statu­tory retirement age across Asia and the Pa­cific is low, con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent and in­creas­ing life ex­pectan­cies, re­sult­ing in long retirement du­ra­tion. Elim­i­nat­ing age bar­ri­ers in the for­mal la­bor mar­ket would help to ease the fis­cal pres­sure on pen­sion and health­care sys­tems. Al­low­ing older peo­ple to work as long as they are able and will­ing would sus­tain their self-suf­fi­ciency and re­duce their so­cial alien­ation.

We can turn the phe­nom­e­non of pop­u­la­tion ag­ing into a sec­ond de­mo­graphic div­i­dend, with fi­nan­cially se­cure, healthy el­derly peo­ple, who are em­pow­ered to fo­cus their decades of ac­cu­mu­lated ex­pe­ri­ence, wis­dom and wealth to stim­u­late new eco­nomic growth.

With the right prepa­ra­tion, we can ben­e­fit from a golden gen­er­a­tion of healthy, wealthy and ac­tive se­nior ci­ti­zens. In 2002, the United Na­tions brought coun­tries to­gether in Madrid to agree on a global way for­ward: to treat older peo­ple as ac­tors in de­vel­op­ment; to en­sure their health and well-be­ing; and to cre­ate en­abling and sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ments for them. A few weeks ago, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 29 gov­ern­ments in the re­gion as­sem­bled in Bangkok to add new re­solve to their ex­ist­ing com­mit­ments dur­ing the Asia-Pa­cific In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Meet­ing on the Third Re­view and Ap­praisal of the Madrid In­ter­na­tional Plan of Ac­tion on Ag­ing.

The Eco­nomic and So­cial Com­mis­sion of Asia and the Pa­cific is work­ing to sup­port coun­tries to turn their com­mit­ments into ac­tion, to se­cure in­creas­ingly in­clu­sive and sus­tain­able economies and so­ci­eties for all ages across the re­gion.

We grow wiser, to­gether. The au­thor is un­der-sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions and ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the Eco­nomic and So­cial Com­mis­sion for Asia and the Pa­cific. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

To eco­nom­i­cally ben­e­fit from our ag­ing pop­u­la­tions, we must en­sure that the el­derly who want to work have the right to do so and are pro­vided with op­por­tu­ni­ties for re-em­ploy­ment.

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