Aging

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AGING AND THE WORKING POPULATION

Santo Koesoebjono* and Solita Sarwono**

 

The aging of the population is related to numerous factors, namely declining number of births, improve-ment in health care, medical technology, lifestyle, education and welfare.

Reduced number of births yields smaller number of young people. At the same time the number of elderly people keeps growing, due to the large size of the pre-family-planning genera-tion that grows older. Elderly people live longer and among them women outnumber men. All countries, Indonesia included, are confronted with the paradox of demographic trends: the rising number of senior citizens and the decline of young people.

By the mid 21st century there will be four times more elder-ly people aged 60 years and older living in Indonesia (75 mil-lion) compared with the condition in 2010 (18 million). More-over, the average life expectancy will further lengthen from 69.8 years in 2010 to 77.6 years in 2050.

Who is affected by population aging? The consequences of population aging are not limited to the growing number of el-derly group only. Aging is also affecting the working popula-tion. Increasing number of elderly persons are involved in var-ious jobs like in agriculture, schools, private companies and government organizations. Companies are facing consequenc-es of losing the employees who have reached the retirement age. Other senior employees will be laid off and replaced by the younger ones because seniority is related to higher salary.

Will replacement of senior employees by younger ones or fresh graduates (lacking in work experience and knowledge of the business culture) be the right solution to the problem of ag-ing? Policy makers and company leaders need to be aware of population aging and prepared to deal with its consequences, such as the possibility of extending the retirement age and re-utilizing the skills and expertise of senior staff or employees.

Growing number of the elderly persons causes a rising bur-den for the working population. The workforce will have to sup-port larger number of elderly such as paying the pension and care for the aged. In 2010, each 100 Indonesians of the working population had to take care of 12 aged persons. In 2050, they will have the responsibility to care for 43 senior citizens. The concern about the care for the elderly is no longer a problem of the future, as at present there are already 18 million elderly people, most of them live in the rural areas.

Population aging in Europe is more advanced than in Indo-nesia. The European Policy Centre noted that the EU will meet a shrinking labor force as from 2015 and need large number of different professionals. For example, by 2020 between one and two million health care workers are needed. The Dutch rail-ways announced the urgent need of thousands workers (i.e. conductors, engine drives and fitters) due to the aging of its personnel. (The current number of employees is around 26,000). How will the shortage of manpower in developed countries be met?

Employment agencies and companies are searching beyond borders, alluring skilled and (highly) trained persons from developing countries. Could nationals from these coun-tries resist the temptations? The migration of trained and expe-rienced nurses from Southeast Asia to Europe and Hong Kong is well noted. Indonesian nurses meet the professional qualifica-tions required by The Netherlands. At the same time there are shortages of nurses in regions outside Java. Tacitly we accept this skill drain. The importance of immigrants for the receiv-ing country is illustrated by a recent article in an English week-ly stating that among the 500 largest American companies 40 percent were set up by immigrants or their children.

Emerging nations, including Indonesia, should be aware that lack of manpower will become visible in the near future. By then these shortages cannot be met by merely recruiting workforce from other countries, because those countries will also be struggling with similar consequences of declining fer-tility and population aging. All countries should brace them-selves and appreciate their potential manpower by providing suitable training at well qualified educational institutions and continuing education/training for employees for maintaining the achievement standards. At the same time the authorities should guarantee jobs corresponding to the qualification of po-tential workers lest emigration might take place.

Are elderly people merely a burden to the society? The an-swer is no. The elderly are the source of knowledge, skill, expe-rience and wisdom. With the improvement in health status and extension of life expectancy elderly people can provide lon-ger contribution to the society. Besides, geriatric care provides (new) job opportunities for the working population. Care for the elderly stimulates the development of new technologies in medical care and tools/appliances, such as hearing aids, walk-ing sticks/devices, motorized wheelchair, appliances to pre-vent accidents among the elderly, therefore reducing the med-ical/hospitalization costs and improving the communications and mobility of the elderly. The supporting devices and tools can improve the quality of life of the elderly, prolong their inde-pendence and strengthen their self confidence.

The future size and composition of Indonesia’s population and its consequences are the result of the demographic heri-tage of the past and the current population development. A de-clining number of the population, diminishing supply of work-force and rising aging of the population and subpopulations come into view and need to be addressed.

 

*NETHERLANDS-based, economist-demographer and consultant

 **NETHERLANDS-based, public health-educator and gender specialist

 Published in Tempo, November 25, 2012

 

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