Aiding the aged
Do we have the necessary system and structure in place to support an ageing society?
“A society for all ages encompasses the goal of providing older persons with the opportunity to continue contributing to society. To work towards this goal, it is necessary to remove whatever excludes or discriminates against them.” – The United Nations’ 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing
AS A developing nation, Malaysia puts a lot of stock into our youth – they are, after all, the fuel that will power the country’s future. Policies and initiatives involving or aimed at the young play a major part in our nation-building, and investing in our youths is viewed as an investment in our future.
The other side of the coin, however, does not see nearly as much exposure. Malaysia
Residents at a home for the elderly, relaxing outside their rooms. The financial and physical burden of caring for elderly parents could well be beyond their children’s means. currently has about 3 million senior citizens, and the number is rising. UN statistics show that Malaysia is likely to reach ageing nation status (where the number of people above 60 make up at least 15% of the population) by the year 2035.
In other words, we have only about 25 years to put into place the necessary systems and structures that are required by a society that includes a significant number of elderly citizens.
A matter of numbers
Population ageing is caused by two factors: declining fertility rates and increasing longevity. People are living longer due to socio-economic developments and improving medical technology. At the same time, families are having fewer children due to reasons such as an increase in working women who have fewer children, and limiting offspring to provide a better quality of life for them.
Assoc Prof Dr Tengku Aizan Hamid, director of the Institute of Gerontology at Universiti Putra Malaysia, points out that it is critical to note that populations are ageing much faster in many Asian countries.
“For example, France took 120 years to double its population of elderly to 14%, while Singapore only took 18 years,” she says, adding that population trends show that Malaysia’s number of elderly will have increased by 277% between the years 2000 and 2030.
“Social institutions, however, are slow to respond to changes in demography,” she says.
As our society gradually shifts into one with more middle-and old-aged people, many widereaching changes need to be amended, in areas as varied as health, finance, employment, education and social relations. To spearhead these changes, govern-
Working on it
The shifting demographics will certainly make an impact on the nation’s workforce and economy, as the number of people retiring will not be sufficiently replaced by new talents.
The key, says employment services provider Manpower’s country manager Sam Haggag, is utilising the older population in a way that benefits both them as well as the country’s economy.
“We’re facing a chronic shortage of skills, as well as an exit of skills through brain drain and retirement. There is inherent value in what older workers can bring; for example, during the recession in the United States and Europe, many older workers were pulled in to draw on their experience,” he says.
While many employers may perceive older workers as being slower or less productive, Haggag says a balance in employee demographics is essential.
“It’s about the roles people can play. In some countries, banking products and insurance companies have found that older salespeople are seen as more credible. And in some parts of Asia, workers in certain fast food chains are primarily from the older age group, and they found that customer service improved and the number of days they didn’t show up for work reduced!” he says.
Raising the retirement age is one way of ensuring productivity, says Haggag, pointing out that countries like Taiwan and France have people working well into their 60s. Our Government does seem to look at this as a viable option; it was reported in July that the retirement age for civil servants may be increased to 60 as early as next year. Even the private sector seems to be catching on; in August, Maybank raised its retirement age from 55 to 57.
According to Haggag, an effective method to encourage businesses to retain older employees is to give them incentives to do so, adding that mentorships and consulting are other ways in which older workers can still contribute to a company.