This article was written in partnership with the Ministry of Finance. Views expressed are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg
Similar to other developed societies, Singaporeans are living longer and the population is ageing. But it’s not just that. With slowing population growth, our workforce is maturing and shrinking at the same time. What do such trends mean to us, and what can be done about it? Let’s find out.
Definition Of An Ageing Population?
An ageing population simply means the country’s population as a whole is getting older, with more elderly members and fewer younger people. In general, the natural replacement rate should be 2.1 babies per woman. However, Singapore’s fertility rate stands at 1.2, far from what is required to maintain a steady population level.
What Happens When Our Population Grows Old?
The challenges that arise from an ageing population may seem too abstract to affect us individually. However, all of us are going to be part of an ageing society. We can compare Singapore’s ageing population to similar situations that we face at home.
Less Working Adults To Support More Older People
According to Population.sg, Singapore has about 4.7 citizens of working age (20 – 64) in 2016 for every 1 older adult (65 and above). This is a significant decline from 10 years ago, where we had 6.9 citizens per older adult. By 2030, our country is expected to have only 2.3 citizens of working age per older adult.
Think about this from our own perspectives. During our grandparents’ era, it was common for families to have five or more children. As a result, when they became older, they had multiple offspring whom they could rely on.
Today, households tend to be much smaller. Many families may have just one or two children. This means that when the parents become older, the responsibility of caring for them would fall on the shoulders of just the one or two children.
Similarly, as our population start to grey (as we all will one day), younger citizens will have to shoulder more responsibility to care for a larger group of older citizens, compared to earlier generations.
Increase In Healthcare Expenses
As we become older, our healthcare expenses are expected to increase. It could be the costs of medical screening, treatments, hospitalisation, or medicine.
Coupled with having fewer working adults in the family to support each older member, the cost burden on each adult becomes even higher. Not only does the family have to cope with higher overall healthcare expenses, but there are fewer working adults to share the burden.
This challenge is similar to what we now face in Singapore. The Government’s budget on healthcare has increased quickly, doubling from $4 billion in 2010 to about $10 billion in 2017, and this trend is likely to continue as our population continues to age, coupled with increasing life expectancy.
Less Workers, Less Vibrant Economy
What does an economy with fewer working adults look like?
First, with a smaller pool of available workers, companies, both local and foreign, may choose to locate their operations overseas, especially if there is a shortage of skills and talent locally.
Second, unless productivity per worker improves, having fewer workers will result in lower overall output. This could translate into a lower GDP, a less competitive economy and, over time, perhaps even negative economic growth. None of them are ideal outcomes for Singapore.
Once this happens, tax revenue will start declining as well. This means the country may not sustain its current fiscal spending, let alone have sufficient resources to care for an ageing population.
The simple conclusion here is that as our population becomes older, we need to do more today to ensure that Singaporeans can lead fulfilling, productive lives, even in their old age, while also ensuring continued economy vibrancy.
As A Country, What Can We Do?
#1 Stay Healthy
Living healthier lives – we can all aspire to that. In recent Budgets, we’ve seen senior-centric measures such as the Pioneer Generation Package, the Silver Support Scheme, and the Community Networks for Seniors.
As life expectancy continue to rise, it’s important for us to turn our attention to the quality of life in our golden years, as opposed to just measuring how long we live.
While it’s common to focus on critical illnesses such as cancer, few would think about chronic illnesses that, if not managed correctly, can contribute to a lower quality of life in their old age.
According to the Ministry of Health, common diseases among adults age 18 to 69 include hypertension (23.5% of population), diabetes (11.3%), and high cholesterol (17.4%). These problems, if not tackled early, can lead to more serious health problems for us when we become older.
By ensuring we lead healthier lives when we are young, we will be able to increase our chances of enjoying a quality life in our older days, and at the same time, reduce healthcare expenses.
#2 Help Older People Stay Gainfully Employed, If They Are Willing To Continue Working
As Singaporeans live longer and healthier lives, some may choose to continue working even into their 60s or 70s. By working longer, it also enables them to build a studier retirement nest egg.
Last year, the re-employment age in Singapore was increased from 65 to 67. What this means is that employers here must offer re-employment to eligible employees who want to continue working, up to the age of 67.
Schemes such as the Special Employment Credit provide employers with wage offsets when they choose to hire Singaporean workers aged 55 and above, and earning up to $4,000 a month. Such incentives encourage employers to hire older, more experienced workers.
Of course, we are not saying that working into your late 60s or early 70s is something that everyone has to strive towards. But you have a choice. Some people may prefer an earlier retirement to pursue other passions in life. Others may prefer committing more time in their golden years to their family, perhaps by helping to raise their grandchildren.
The point here is that options must be available for older people in Singapore to continue contributing to society in their own ways, whether in the workplace, at home, or elsewhere.
#3 Lifelong Learning
With the world changing so rapidly, we cannot afford to neglect lifelong learning.
Whether you are a young graduate just entering the workforce, or a 65-year old veteran who has worked for 40 years, lifelong learning is a pursuit worth embracing.
But learning doesn’t (and shouldn’t) always be about what you need to know in order to stay ahead in your job.
It can be an introductory course to data analytics, training to be a certified barista or personal trainer, learning about basic sewing, or even knowing how to use the latest social media platforms so that you can stay connected with your grandchildren. The point here is to never stop learning, even when we are older.
Through SkillsFuture, all Singaporeans age 25 and above will receive $500 in credit. Singaporeans young and old should make use of these credits to pick up a course that interests them.
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