Malaysia in 2050: old, poor, sick and without children?
Nation has no policy to address ageing population issue
By Billy Toh
Malaysia’s aspiration to become a top 20 country in the world by 2050 under the 2050 National Transformation (TN50) initiative, will see a serious issue from a demographic perspective as experts pondered about a possible ugly truth for the country where the population is old, poor, sick and without children.
“As it stands, there is more of us from 6 million in 1957 to 30 million now and is going to be 40 million. But we are going to be an old society. Old, poor, sick, have to work and without children or grandchildren (by 2050),” said DM Analytics Malaysia chief economist Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid, who spoke at the forum on Malaysia’s population in 2050: What Does This Mean Socio-Economically?. The forum is organised by The Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.
“Some will do better, but many of us will not. We will get worse. Therefore, you need adjustment in policies for this,” he added.
Muhammed said Malaysia at present does not have a comprehensive policy to address the issue of ageing population.
He cited a presentation by Unicef Malaysia’s deputy representative and senior social policy specialist Dr Amjad Rabi’s projection which showed Malaysia will be an ageing population by 2035, with more than 15 per cent of the population aged 65 and above, compared with eight per cent now.
“That speed, Amjad mentioned (25 years to reach an ageing population), is one of the fastest in the world. It took France 115 years (to reach an ageing population), the U.S. 70 years and the UK 45 years. Even Philippines, 35 years. It’s gonna take us 25 years only, to become an ageing nation. That speed to me, is mind boggling,” Muhammed added.
He also noted that currently there are about 70 per cent of Malaysians — who are about to withdraw their money from the Employees Provident Fund — with less than RM50,000 (US$11,493) in their EPF savings and about 20 per cent having less than RM7,000 (US$1,609).
“If you assume monthly expenditure at minimum wage of RM1,000 (US$230), one in five (20 per cent of those withdrawing their money) cannot last for a very long time. We are in huge trouble.
“For males, between age 65 and 69, one in three will still be working. If you are above 70 years and male, one in five will still be working. And this will increase,” Muhammed added.
Obesity and smoking are also big issues in Malaysia, with the country being one of the highest nation in Southeast Asia in terms of obesity.
“Today, one in five Malaysians are smokers, while seven in 10 are second hand smokers. At home, four in 10 (Malaysians) are second hand smokers. Diabetic has also increased. Hypertension — one in three Malaysians have it. Mental health, one in three. This is not healthy,” Muhammed shared.
In Malaysia, the fertility rate has also declined from 6.2 children per woman during independence to 1.9 child per woman today, according to Amjad. Based on a forecast shown by Amjad, the population in Malaysia will grow to 40.7 million in 2050, from 31 million in 2017, while children (under 18) will fell to 8.344 million in 2050, from 9.056 million currently.
Amjad added that the demographic window of opportunity will end in 2020. Demographic window of opportunity occurs when working-age population expands at a higher rate, than the general population.
With less children expected in Malaysia in future, there will be less support for the aged population.
Muhammed pointed to an equally important issue that has hit the younger generation, that is, unemployment and stagnant income growth.
“Young people are also not doing well. Youth unemployment is going up. Even if you get a job, your salary is probably going to be stagnant. Between 2007 and 2015, the job wage growth for graduates was about two per cent. Minus inflation, it (wage growth) is negative,” he added.
“This issue is a serious one that is not given enough attention. To put in bluntly, we’re in serious trouble. (As such,) the entire structure of the economy and ideology has to change. It’s not just a specific policy and intervention is required, but the whole ideology.
“The focus on being high income, top 20 is pointless. It doesn’t mean anything, if it only benefits select groups. It doesn’t mean anything if all we focus on is gross domestic product,” Muhammed said, highlighting the need to focus on growth that is inclusive.
Chua Choon Hwa, undersecretary with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, said some of the plans that have been put in placed to address such issues include the ministry’s Caring Society initiative, which targets job redesign for family or mature workers, childcare services, flexible working arrangement, lifelong learning, younger generation investment and saving, as well as affordable homes.