Oct 10, 2017 (LBO) – Population projections show that the proportion of Sri Lankans above the age of 60 years will increase from 14 percent in 2017 to 22 percent by the year 2037.
“With such a rapidly ageing population in Sri Lanka, it is imperative for policy makers to ensure that social and economic institutions in the county are ready to face the challenges ahead,” said Ritsu Nacken, representative in Sri Lanka of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the launch of the ‘Population Ageing in Sri Lanka: Emerging Issues, Needs, and Policy Implications’ report in Colombo.
“One of the recommendations of this report is to take a life-cycle approach. This requires investing in young people to maximize their wealth creation and prepare them for old age, while also extending the healthy period of their lives.”
The report is a collaboration between the UNFPA and the department of Census and Statistics.
Population standard projections show that by the mid of the 21st century, one in every four persons (25 percent) in the country will be aged 60 years and over (6.2 million).
The total and child dependency ratios have decreased as 60 and 40 dependents respectively while old-age dependency has increased to 20 per 100 working-age people in 2012.
It is expected that old-age dependency ratio would increase faster than the child dependency ratio by the mid of this century, the report says.
“The change in age structure and an increasing number of old-age population would result in a significant shrinking of the support base for the ageing population in Sri Lanka,”
“In 1981 there were on average seven persons (age 20-59 years) to provide support for one older person and in 2012 the number dropped to four persons.”
The consequences of the population ageing process that Sri Lanka is currently experiencing will have several policy dimensions that the policy makers must address without further delay, report showed.
Such policy dimensions are:
(a) Public awareness of accelerated ageing process in the country;
(b) Inadequacy of service delivery of social welfare, economic security, health care, oldage disability and long term care, legal rights, living conditions, physical infrastructure and any other for the three older age groups: y young-old (60-69), 61 percent of total old age population y middle-old (70-79), 28 percent of total old age population y oldest-old (80 and over), 11 percent, of total old age population; and
(c) Inadequacy of prevailing policies and programmes to address such issues.
According to the report the life expectancy at birth for male and female was 72 and 79 years respectively and hence at age 60, females can expect to live about 19 more years, compared to 12 more years for males at the same age.
As most of the older population are in the young-old group policies and programmes need to address economic participation related issues, it said.
About 43 percent of older men and 11 percent of older women were employed in 2012. Over half of older persons are employed as skilled agricultural/ forestry and fishery workers (31.4 percent), and elementary occupation (23.1 percent).
More than one thirds of employed older females were engaged in elementary occupations while over one thirds of employed males engaged in skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery related employments.
The report also says policies need to focus on addressing the needs of older people and resource allocation, planning and developing physical and social infrastructure at provincial and district levels.
The older population in Sri Lanka is unevenly distributed among the nine provinces and twenty- five districts of Sri Lanka and approximately one in every three older persons in Sri Lanka or 31 percent of older persons resides in the Western Province.
The second and third highest proportions of older persons live in the Central (3.8 percent) and Southern Provinces (13.1 percent) while the North Central, Northern, and Eastern provinces have reported about 5 percent each.
The following recommendations can be made with the hope that they are implemented in a timely manner, the report said.
1 Conduct public awareness programmes and inter-generational dialogue on demographic shift and consequences of population ageing in Sri Lanka to educate the general public and find applicable solutions.
2 Design and develop alternative care arrangements for socially isolated, economically disadvantaged, and widowed older men and women in Sri Lanka based on existing community development institutions while also strengthening other government and non-governmental administrative structures, and mechanisms including voluntary services and outreach programmes.
3 Strengthen the existing data collecting systems at Grama Niladhari level (lowest administrative level) and other levels (provincial and district levels) to collect more accurate data on older persons’ needs with better coverage for effective planning, decision making and programmes interventions for older persons in Sri Lanka. Such systems are also important to recognize needs and ensure better access to economic security, welfare and other services for older persons especially the vulnerable older persons.
Population ageing in Sri Lanka is accelerating at a faster rate than other South Asian countries and has been increasing rapidly since 1980s. Between 1981 and 2012, the proportion of population aged 60 years and above, has increased from 6.6 percent to 12.4 percent.
The median age of the Sri Lankan population has also increased from 21.4 years to 31.0 years for the 1981-2012 periods, which is much higher than other countries in the South Asian region.