Winning aging

Friday, 6 February 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Older people are people too. Much of the concern around an ageing population lies in the presumption and sometimes fear that older people are less productive and less innovative, have lower rates of consumption but are passive recipients of welfare services. Essentially, they are a burden. But a new study published by Age International shows that factually more and more elderly people are working for longer. The report argues that across developing countries there is evidence that the productivity, creativity, vitality and participation of older adults in workplaces, communities, households and families is not just growing but crucial to sustainable development. According to the latest World Bank Sri Lanka demography transition report, 67% of Sri Lanka’s population is of working age and the said population will continue to remain significantly larger than the dependent population until 2017, with the makings to play a crucial role in advancing the country’s economy. Findings of a series of technical studies put together by Sri Lankan academics and the World Bank highlighted that the share of the elderly population over 60 years of age is expected to increase from 12.5% to 16.7% in 2021, and by 2041, one out of every four people is expected to be an elderly person. Examining the economic implications of Sri Lanka’s demographic transition, focusing on employment and productivity issues, the report called for effective policy planning such as improving labour market outcomes and providing adequate services for vulnerable groups which could help ensure a smooth demographic transition. What happens when a young population ages? How should countries prepare for it or should they even prepare? Much of the world faces similar situations and challenges – globally, within the next ten years, there will be one billion older people worldwide and by 2050, nearly one in five people in developing countries will be over the age of 60. In reference to the welfare of the elderly, retirement benefits were noted to be crucial. Out of the total elderly population in Sri Lanka, only 15% receive pension benefits and 26% receive EPF, while approximately 41% receive some benefit or the other. However, it is noteworthy that the remaining 18% of the elderly population receives no retirement benefits and tends to rely on the welfare of their children, relatives and friends. Yet that does not make them useless. A recent study of community work in Asia found that more than a quarter of Indians and Taiwanese and a fifth of Filipino and Chinese men and women in their 60s and 70s regularly helped in the wider community, providing assistance to individuals of all ages. Other studies have highlighted the importance of the local knowledge and community-organising skills of associations for the elderly in disaster relief efforts. Significant representation as ‘elders’ among civic, political and religious leaders at community and national levels as well as among the business and professional elite is positive. In these roles, older people actively and passively shape the conditions for and the attitudes of younger generations toward entrepreneurship, political and societal stability and good governance. The ways in which the elderly presently fulfil the above functions may be conducive to or may hinder the forging of enabling conditions for a demographic dividend. A central challenge for policy and thought leaders then is to understand better, and to address the capacities, opportunities and perspectives of older people in their varied roles, in order to create the most favourable foundation for a demographic dividend.