March 2014

Express your opinion on the theme of 'ageing population' in Singapore.

1st Place - Lena Tan

Singapore’s ageing population has been a source of growing concern in recent years. Low fertility rates (estimated by the World Bank to be 1.2 in 2010) coupled with increased life expectancy due to improved medical care has contributed to the rise of the proportion of the elderly (>65 years old) in our society. This worrying trend has led to impact of various kinds in the different realms of society – most of which are negative.

 

A larger proportion of the aged leads to a decrease in the old-age dependency ratio, as there are less working adults available to support every older citizen above the age of 65. The old-age support ratio was 13.5 in 1970, and has been projected to fall to 3.6 in the year 2020. Such a phenomenon calls for our attention as not only do the future generations have to shoulder a heavier financial burden, it would also harm Singapore’s competitiveness in the global economy.

 

Other than slow economic growth, the issue of ageing population may change the political landscape of Singapore too. A changing demographic profile with older citizens as the majority translates to the rise of the grey vote. Perhaps this might signal the start of an intense power struggle between the elderly and the working adults, with each group demanding for more resources devoted to them in order to advance their own interests. That being said, in a highly collectivistic society such as Singapore, national interests are prioritized; powers will be balanced in order to promote and maintain social harmony.

 

In an attempt to alleviate the ills of an ageing population, the government has come up with a slew of policies aimed at helping both the elderly and the young to cope. One measure has been to import young foreign talent to help fuel Singapore’s economy. While effective to a large extent, the influx of foreigners has been met with resistance from the locals, as seen from the White Paper protests in 2013. Singapore’s newest medical school, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, aims to tackle the healthcare needs of the ageing population by focusing their research on diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes that are common among the elderly. Financial aid is also provided in the form of the Pioneer Generation Package recently revealed in the 2014 Singapore Budget, with Medisave top-ups and more subsidized health services available for the aged. These measures are implemented to ensure that our country will have the capacity and ability to take care of the growing numbers of elderly people. Moreover, steps are taken to improve the employability and productivity of senior citizens. By making sure that their skill sets are upgraded and remain relevant to the economy, the elderly can still continue to contribute to the workforce and be financially-dependent.

 

Despite the widely-proclaimed notion that an ageing population will be nothing but detrimental to Singapore, I believe that there is still positivity in such a situation. First and foremost, we should not disregard the fact that seniors can still be active in contributing to the society. Elders carry with them a wealth of experience and knowledge, which is essential in today’s serviced-based economy. Besides, an ageing population may even stimulate the economy to a certain extent, due to the rise of the “silver dollar”. In Singapore, where the importance of having savings and being thrifty are emphasized, it can be argued that a significant proportion of the elderly have a relatively high spending power. Thus, a wealthy, ageing population can indeed contribute to the economy.

 

To conclude, the elderly of tomorrow will be more financially independent than the elderly of today. Besides being more prudent in financial matters, they will also be healthier due to the advancement of medical technology. Thus, I believe that the elderly of tomorrow will be better equipped to deal with the potential problems faced by a society with an ageing population – the road ahead will be a challenge for Singapore, but we definitely can ride through it.

2nd Place - Lynn Tan

Ageing population refers to the phenomenon when the proportion of elderly in Singapore increases, relative to the proportion of the young. Singapore is often hailed as a First World country with her advanced medical technologies that led to the rise in life expectancy. However, mirroring other developed countries such as Japan, Singapore also has an extremely low fertility rate of 1.20 in 2011, thereby raising the projected dependency ratio in the future.

 

Is an ageing population necessarily indicative of a slowdown in economic growth and worsening of social stability? This may or may not be true. The idea of an ageing population is not new in Singapore. Thankfully, the government has been actively integrating the elderly into society. An example would be through the Workforce Development Agency, where the ‘Continuing Education and Training’ program helps equip the elderly with the required skillsets to aid them to stay employable in Singapore’s ever-evolving economy. Also, the government has been taking the initiative to divert funds into Research and Development in the medical sector, which effectively provide affordable and reliable healthcare for the aged. Moreover, according to a Chinese Proverb, having an elderly at home is equivalent to having a treasure at home. Having an ageing population could possibly contribute to social cohesion, especially within the family. The elderly are able to share their valuable experiences about the past – for example, after going through the World War II and the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the young would be able to learn first-hand about how to cope with different situations. Values such as filial piety can also be strengthened through ancestral ties. Clearly, the elderly have much to offer for the young to learn from.

 

However, an ageing population does pose a problem to the sustainability of Singapore’s economy. Noting that Singapore has no hinterland or natural resources, human capital is an important factor required for sustained economic growth. Having an ageing population would mean that the young would be adversely affected if the government should decide to devote more funds to building elderly-friendly infrastructure, rather than channeling funds to more productive activities. Consequentially, as more elderly are unable to rejoin the workforce due to ailments, the amount of tax-paying workforce decreases and the government would have to increase tax on the young to sustain their spending. This will result in a heavier burden for the young, coupled with the rise in cost of living in Singapore due to inflation.

 

Singapore has an open economy where foreign investments are critical for economic growth. With an ageing population, potential investors may be deterred to invest in Singapore as an ageing population may mean an unproductive and inefficient workforce.

 

Hence, economic stagnation is likely to occur with reduced capital flow. Singapore also has very competitive neighbors with an abundance of labor- this enables them to produce the same goods at a lower cost.

 

Thus, Singapore is in a position where she has to embrace an ‘ageing population’, and turn negativity into positivity by continuously upgrading the skillsets of her existing population to maintain a competitive edge.

3rd Place - Kezia Soh

Step into their shoes and embrace the ageing population as they embrace each other.  I feel that we, as members of our beloved Singapore, should not just view our ageing population as a challenge for Singapore on a national level. We should adopt the perspective that it is just as much of a challenge for each and every one of the individuals who are getting older. We should remember that with ageing comes with physical and emotional challenges. We should view the ageing population more on an individual level because their lives, struggles and emotions are so important. They do have their friendships and relationships, but there comes a point in time when they may not be able to depend on each other anymore. Hence, we, the younger generation, need to support them. Not just for the sake of our nation, but because they too are individuals and people who we love and cherish.