The flip side to living longer than anyone else in the world

Hong Kong has surpassed Japan when it comes to longevity but without adequate planning on retirement and health care, there is little to cheer about

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 12:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 12:53am

People are living longer than ever, thanks to better nutrition and medical care as well as improved responses to disasters. Officially, global life expectancy rose to 71.4 years in 2015, according to the United Nations. Given Hong Kong’s affluence and world-class health care system, our figures are even higher. According to new data released by Japan’s health authority, our longevity has already surpassed that of Japan’s. Our men and women have the greatest longevity in the world, with an average lifespan of 81.24 and 87.32 years, respectively.

The implications of the latest data go beyond which are the best places to live. As experts have warned, living longer does not necessarily mean living healthier.

This is absolutely right. Figures show that diseases like diabetes and dementia and cardiovascular problems already strike at a younger age in our society. The proportion of people suffering from such diseases is also steadily rising.

In fact, as long as we stay at the top of the global life expectancy ranking, a healthy lifestyle remains a hard sell. The latest news of Hongkongers’ longevity may give a false signal that there is no need to invest further in our health care system.

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The truth is that as people live longer, so medical bills rise. The growing dependence on health care at an older age inevitably adds to the already strained public health care system.

Also weighing heavily will be the burden on retirement protection. There has long been criticism that the mandatory provident fund scheme – in which workers and bosses each contribute 5 per cent of the monthly salary, subject to a cap of HK$1,500 – cannot sustain a decent retirement. The need for better safeguards will become even greater as people live longer.

According to government projections, about one-third of our population will be elderly citizens by 2041. Compared with three decades ago when 10 adults supported one elderly person, the ratio will become two to one. The impact on the economy as well as public finances cannot be ignored.

Successive governments have been grappling with the challenges arising from a greying society. Various consultations have been launched, including the recent one on the need for a wealth-based pension scheme in future. Sadly, there are still no firm directions. With an ageing population and longer lifespans come the need for better retirement safeguards and health care protection. The public expects the government to show more commitment on these fronts.