Sri Lanka warned to get ready for ‘feminization of ageing’

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is ageing with expanding over-60 population and a greater share of the older persons will be women, experts said giving early warnings to prepare for challenges ahead as the country goes through a ‘feminization of ageing’.

“Sri Lanka is one of the fastest ageing countries in the world and is faced with addressing this rapid demographic transition,” Reiko Hayashi,Director, Department of International Research and Cooperation, National Institute of Population Social Security Research, Japan said.

“Among the South Asian countries Sri Lanka comes to you with relatively large portions of population in the 60 plus bracket.”

“This is the result of the decline in fertility, decrease in mortality and increasing longevity.””

She was speaking at a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) forum on ‘Feminization of Ageing population and its Long-term Impact’. ‘Feminization of ageing’ occurs when women make up a larger share of the elderly population.

UNFPA data shows that at age 60 females can live 19 more years compared to 12 more years for males.

“Sri Lanka is one of the fastest ageing countries in the world and is faced with addressing this rapid demographic transition,” Hayashi said.

Japan which also has a rapidly ageing population has a number of programs, which Sri Lanka could study. One was a public insurance policy on long term care.

“When we started, there were 2 million people who were certified to be eligible to receive the care and now after 19 years of implementation, there are 6.5 million people, who are eligible to receive care,” she said.

UNFPA Country Representative for Sri Lanka, Ritsu Nacken said that multidisciplinary and multisectoral approaches should be adopted.

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“I think Sri Lanka needs to get out of the health sector alone approach and look at the various different dimensions, including social services, employment,” Nacken said.

“Actually I believe Japan has quite a good employment policies for the elderly.”

In Sri Lanka the share of women in the population in the older age brackets and overall is set to rise compared to men.

Lakshman Dissanayake former Vice Chancellor, university of Colombo said by 2037 women will exceed men by 20 percent.

“However when you look at the absolute numbers and not just the proportion percentages, that will give some gravity to the issue,” he said.

“You find 289,271 excess women in 2012 and it will reach to 559,436 women in 2037,” he said.

There was a need to shift the healthcare system from curative communicable disease oriented system to the more preventive system experts said.

Conditions such as heart disease was becoming increasingly prevalent, especially in urban areas.

“In the 2012 census data the percentage of suffering from heart diseases in the urban setting was 54.9 percent, Shiromi Maduwage, Consultant Community physician, Elderly and Disability Health Care unit, Ministry of Health said.

“And when it comes to rural areas, it was 52.9 percent and in estates 35.5 percent.

“Non-communicable diseases are very common among the elderly.”

In Sri Lanka women also make up a smaller share of the working population, leaving them with bigger challenges later in life.

The current working population would also have to support growing ageing workers.

“If you want to make the population ageing a demographic dividend, you need to focus very seriously on the current labor force,” Dissanayake said.

“You have to make the current labor force productive, and then you have to improve their income generating activities, and also improve their savings capacity.

“So by the time they reach the elderly age, they will have actually got some accumulated wealth in their pocket.”

In Sri Lanka majority of the elderly live with their family and rely in them for financial and in-kind support.

Some countries have raised the retirement age.

Other critics have also raised concerns about able bodied young graduates of state universities who are demanding to take home taxes collected from the people home in the form non-existent state jobs and lifetime pensions in an already bloated public service.

Such cash transfers to excess state workers, places further pressure on workers mainly in the private sector who are engaged in productive jobs in the economy, critics say.

Other analysts have also called for central bank reform, so that its ability to print money and depreciate the currency can be controlled. Depreciating currencies tend to destroy the real value of savings of the aged who have pensions, analysts have said. (Colombo/Sep20/2019)

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