KUALA LUMPUR (Aug 8): More Malaysians are now remaining active in the workforce even beyond the age of 60, according to studies carried out by Universiti Malaya’s Social Well-being Research Centre (SWRC).
In view of the steady rise in the population of older people relative to the total population due to declining fertility and increasing life expectancy rates, having more senior citizens gainfully employed is a sign of positive ageing as it proves that they are still physically and mentally fit.
“This is termed as positive ageing as they are demonstrating their ability to work and remain active as entrepreneurs or in other occupations. Many are also involved with NGOs (non-governmental organisations),” said SWRC director Prof Datuk Norma Mansor.
The National Statistics Department has stated that people aged 60 and above make up almost 10% of Malaysia’s current population while the percentage is projected to rise to 15% by 2035, thus thrusting this country to the ageing nation category.
An online survey on “Understanding Ageing” carried out by SWRC from May 2015 to May 2016 showed that half of those aged 60 and above among the 518 people interviewed were still employed.
In another study by SWRC in June 2016 on “Savings Adequacy Assessment: The Case of Malaysian Employees Provident (EPF) Members” covering 2,635 contributors, it was found that almost half of the respondents aged 60 and above still remained active in the workforce.
“We found that although they have various forms of savings or investments, they opted to continue working,” Norma told Bernama in an interview, adding that their findings also proved that senior citizens were still capable of contributing towards the nation’s economic development.
“So, we have to think of how to continue to engage with them so that they can keep on contributing (to the nation).”
CREATE NEW POLICY
Meanwhile, SWRC visiting professor Robert L. Clark, who is from the US-based North Carolina State University’s Department of Economics, Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the trend for men and women to work longer has a positive impact on the labour force and the economy as a whole.
“Studies show that older age does not affect (the) performance and capacity (of a worker). Individual differences in performance may increase with age, however, persons with high-level job skills don’t seem to have a high level of depreciation as long as they continue to work at challenging tasks,” he told Bernama.
With the increase in the number of older workers, greater attention should be given to ways to preserve the skills and productive capacity of workers as they age, he added.
He felt that if working longer is considered beneficial to individuals, society and the economy, then the government should introduce a new policy to increase incentives for older Malaysians to remain active in the labour force and for firms to employ older workers.
“If individuals choose to delay retirement, organisations may have to respond by trying to form new types of employment contracts that are more suited to the preferences of older workers and consistent with their changing values to the organisation concerned,” said Clark.
Suggesting that employers come up with new contracts for “redesigned jobs” with reduced working hours and access to retirement benefits for employees entering phased retirement, he said this could make the workers more willing to leave full-time employment and accept the new working conditions.
Another SWRC visiting professor Naohiro Ogawa, who is from the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Economics and holder of the Old Age Financial Protection Chair, said in Japan the government recently introduced a policy on elder citizens that was aimed at raising the optional age for receiving public pensions to 71.
Although Japan has been allocating a large amount of resources towards programmes to increase its birth rate, the government has not been able to reverse the downward trend.
Speaking to Bernama, Ogawa said Japan has one of the highest participation of men and women aged 65 and above in the labour force in the world.
“Japan aims to become an ageless society where people aged 65 and above will not be automatically regarded as seniors but will be encouraged to stay healthy and work.
“An ageless society is when people of all generations can be active in accordance with their wishes,” he said.
Ogawa also said that an ageing society does not necessarily have to have a gloomy outlook because the nation can look forward to reaping the demographic dividend as a result of the change in the age structure of its population.
Demographic dividend, he explained, is the economic growth a country experiences when the age structure of its population changes.
A lower birth rate means the number of young dependents became smaller relative to the working population. With fewer people to support and more people in the labour force, an economy’s resources can be freed up and invested in other areas to accelerate a country’s economic development and the future prosperity of its population.
Ogawa said before any related policies are implemented by the government, it has to first understand the three phases of the demographic dividend.
The first phase is when the birth rate falls and the number of working people exceeds the non-working population.
“Economically, Malaysia now has a situation where production exceeds consumption, so people can save money and increase their savings,” he said, adding that Malaysia has enjoyed economic growth as a result of its first population dividend in the last few decades.
“However, the economic growth (due to the population dividend) is expected to end in 2029. Hence, the government should utilise this golden opportunity by implementing appropriate economic and social policies before it is too late.”
The second phase of the population dividend is when there is an increase in savings and investments by people in all age groups.
“There will be an increase in the demand for wealth in some form to support their consumption in their old age when people have to rely on public pensions, contributions from their adult children and family members or welfare programmes or accumulated savings during their working years, such as EPF,” said Ogawa.
The third phase involves the improvement in the health of older persons, especially those who have reached retirement age.
According to Ogawa, the volume of untapped work capacity of this group (retirees) is vast. And, based on data gathered from the National Health and Morbidity Study 2011, it will have a major impact on the country’s GDP.
“The key is for policymakers to look ahead. Issues of demographic changes cannot be placed at the backstage,” he said, adding that Malaysians would enjoy prosperous ageing if the policymakers can develop and implement appropriate labour and social policies for them.
Norma, meanwhile, added that although SWRC’s research into issues related to ageing cannot provide all the solutions needed, she is confident that the findings of the academic studies can at least help organisations, workers and policymakers to think more strategically when drafting policies pertaining to the re-employment of retired personnel.
AGEING NOT ‘SCARY’
Norma said ageing was not as “scary” as it appeared to be and that senior citizens can sail through their golden years if they maintain a positive attitude.
In an article written by Norma in October 2016 that was carried by a local daily, she said: “Positive ageing is a term used to describe the process of maintaining a positive attitude, feeling good about oneself, keeping fit and healthy, and engaging fully in life as a person ages.
“Research shows that those who age positively live longer, are healthier and enjoy a good quality of life. How people manage, think about and cope with the challenges can affect how well they cope with ageing.”
Norma also said that with the increasing life expectancy due to better healthcare facilities and advancements in medical technology, Malaysians cannot run away from making the necessary preparations for their financial needs during their sunset years.
SWRC studies have indicated that the life expectancy now for Malaysians aged 65 is about 80, which meant that they would have about 20 years to live after retirement.
“Our survey in 2016 (on ‘Savings Adequacy Assessment: The Case of Malaysian Employees Provident Members’ covering 2,635 respondents) revealed that only half of them (respondents) were confident that they have enough savings to lead a comfortable life after retirement,” she said.
Based on today’s economic situation and the rising cost of living and healthcare, retirees were most likely to exhaust their savings within a short period, she said.
“This is why I keep encouraging senior citizens who are still healthy and active to continue working,” she said, adding that Malaysians should also start saving early and have their own health protection instrument.