An ageing population: friend or foe?

by | Jun 14, 2018 | Ageing societies | 0 comments

by Shi Ng

“Our ageing population means more will be working with a disability” (The Times); “More migrant workers needed to offset ageing population, says IMF” (The Guardian); “Japan’s ageing population milestone intensifies investor focus” (Financial Times).

Countless articles are published daily about the global phenomenon of an ageing population. From the study of global trends to the analysis of the problems that come with it and the search for ways to mitigate these problems, an ageing global population is, has been, and will remain in the global spotlight for many years to come.

With baby boomers all turning 60 in the coming years, we will continue to see the average age of the global population increase and the number societies faced with an ageing population rise imminently. The United Nations reported in 2015 that there were 901 million people aged 60 years or over and projected that by 2050 the global population of older persons would be more than double that of 2015, reaching nearly 2.1 billion. We cannot hide from the fact that the global population is getting older, and it will bring about a slew of challenges. Articles such as those mentioned above depict an ageing population as an inevitable threat to our current state of living.

So what exactly is the problem? Why can’t the world cope with more people growing older? If this is trouble at all, why not fix it? The questions relating to ageing populations are manifold, affecting everyone and everything.

More often than not, an ageing population is played out to be a pessimistic reality. However, is it possible that this particular global challenge can turn out to be a blessing in disguise? By addressing the isolated problem of an ageing population, we are often forced to acknowledge the related issues that arise from the challenges posed by ageing populations.

When tackling these issues, governments find themselves having to engage with the matter of low fertility rates too. To address this, Taiwan has resorted to extreme measures where the government intervenes with people’s love life in the form of official matchmaking sessions. This is in hope that by socialising at such events, some participants will go on to get married and have children (The Straits Times). But why are young people not getting married and have children? Many young people bring up the issue of high cost of living as one of the main deterrents for not having children. With the pressure of ageing populations mounting, governments are then forced to also come up with ways to address low fertility rates and the needs of young people, if they want to encourage them to have children. As such, the problem of ageing populations indirectly brings issues such as competitive wages, lack of affordable housing, childcare and parental benefits to the fore.

Additionally, we are often compelled to think outside the box in times of crises and come up with new ways to tackle pressing problems. In this case, we are forced to innovate and come up with creative and ground-breaking ideas to accommodate the needs of an ageing population. With the post-war baby boomers turning 60, fertility rates hitting a record low (1.44), and a tight immigration policy, Japan is ageing faster than ever. To cope with a shrinking population and the growing needs of the elderly, Japan is turning to artificial intelligence in their attempts to solve the ageing population woes. Robots of different models and uses are being put on trial in some nursing homes in the country, where the robots are able to not only tend for the physical needs of elders, but they may also be able to fill the gap of companionship of lonely elderly (Japan Times)

Photo taken from Taiwan Insight

The idea of things being multi-purpose has also caught on in the time of finite resources and infinite demands. Consequently, there has also been increased interest in intergenerational care, where the activities that bring children and elderly together are mutually beneficial. Studies have shown that the activities promoting early childhood developmental growth in children and the activities needed for elderly to maintain their cognitive abilities and psychomotor skills are undoubtedly similar. Hence, why not put the two seemingly opposing groups in the same place to do the same things? The results from these intergenerational care facilities have been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to the physical benefits, social interaction makes the elderly feel less lonely, and the children learn empathy for the elderly at a young age. At the same time, resources are streamlined to provide the needs for two different groups of people. Such ideas of being multi-purpose and multi-targeted not only increase efficiency but also address the need for more resources to cope with an ageing population.

One of the worries caused by an ageing population is that of a dwindling workforce. For most individuals, the prospect of early retirement may seem out of reach, as they have to continue to work to provide and plan for their elder years. Businesses and organisations will also see a shortage of workers if the elderly choose to retire. How then can we address the interests of all parties? Some economic analysts are urging governments to increase the rights and employment opportunities for the growing number of elderly to stimulate growth. With the right measures and mindsets in place ageing populations can lead to an economic boom. Tap on the experiences of the elderly, they suggest, help them to stay relevant. One such measure is the SkillsFuture programme in Singapore, which promotes lifelong learning, by providing a platform where Singaporeans can sign up for different courses in different fields of interests, allowing people to continuously upgrade their skills and stay competent and employable.

While we should not downplay the looming problems ageing populations cause, we should not be entirely pessimistic about them, either. By acknowledging and placing emphasis on the ageing population crisis, other social issues are also brought to light. Stakeholders all over the world are beginning to realize that this problem cannot and should not be isolated from other social challenges. To cope with the issues that arise from an ageing population, other aspects and problems in society have to be addressed as well. Therefore, an ageing population may not be as big of a devil as it is constantly portrayed. Instead, it could be the hidden guardian angel that brings light and change to society.


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