by: Doreen Allasiw
Contrary to popular belief that aging population is solely the concern of developed countries, statistics show otherwise. At present, more than half of the world’s elderly (those 65+) reside in developing nations (59 percent, 249 million people). And this is even expected to increase up to 71 percent, or 689 million people, by 20301. At the moment, however, most advanced countries, including Japan and Western European nations, have the oldest population in the world.
So what do these facts tell us? I believe it is safe to say that regardless of economic standing no country is spared from this problem. It is also worth noting that the economic disparity between the developed and developing nations has never been greater. But if there’s something that we all share, it is the global problems that we face with climate change and the common goals that we strive for in humanity, such as sustainable development, resilient society and intergenerational equity.
Prior to studying Sustainability Science in Japan, ageing was an up-close and personal concern that I dealt with on a daily basis within my family. The Philippines, my home country, is known for its extended family system where the children continue to live with their parents even after they have a family of their own. Given such arrangement, caring for the elderly has never been a problem as there is no shortage of helping hands within the family. Sending grandparents to hospice care or elderly homes is a foreign concept to me, as families take care of each other.
Moreover, as a child, I have been taught to respect the elderly and to be of help to them whenever necessary. I am also a testament to how grandparents take care of their young grandchildren while parents go to work. In return, the family takes care of the grandparents during their twilight years. It is based on this experience that I see elderly care as a by-product of interplay between culture, moral responsibility and deep love for the family. It is very rare that elders are considered a burden, as the sense of responsibility for caring for them is deeply rooted in the family tradition of my country. Under these circumstances, it never occurred to me that aging would become a political and economic problem that plagues even the most advanced nations.
The opportunity of post-graduate studies, however, is providing me a glimpse of the bigger picture, of a more complex world than my own. From starting as one of the poorest countries in Asia, Japan managed to become the second largest economy in the world. However, in recent years, the Japanese economy has started to slow down and experts predict that it will continue to do so if certain problems associated with the burgeoning elderly population are not averted. In Japan, the elderly are expected to make up nearly 30 percent of the nation’s population by 2030 and one –third of the population by 2050. The implication is alarming and nation leaders bear the burden of allocating resources equitably between different age groups. A graying nation, falling population and a shrinking economy, Japan is on a race against time to minimize the impact of economic decline.
By now most of us would have realized that regardless if you are looking at a developing country like the Philippines or a developed nation such as Japan, the dilemma for the government will still be the same. Is it fair for the younger generation to bear the burden of supporting the old generation and do they have the resources and capacity to do so? But on the other hand, is it also fair to portray older people as a burden to the economy without recognizing that they paved the way for the development that the younger generation is enjoying? As we ponder on these questions, I would like us to remember, the future is in our hands, what are we going to do about it?
1 United Nations. 1999. The sex and age distribution of world populations (1998 revisions). New York: United Nations.