The often forgotten senior citizens of Bangladesh
The International Day of Older Persons (IDOP) is observed by all UN member states on October 1 each year to raise awareness on issues affecting the elderly, from senescence to abuse. It is also a day to appreciate the contributions that older people make to society.
In the United States and Canada, the day is celebrated as National Grandparents Day, in China as Double Ninth Festival and in Japan as Respect for the Aged Day. This year, the theme of the IDOP is “Stepping in to the future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and participation of older Persons in Society.”
The numbers don’t lie
Population ageing is an increase in the proportion of elderly people over 60 years of age in the total population. Populations in developing countries are ageing at three times the speed of populations in developed countries, and 62 percent of the world’s elderly population are living in the low income regions of the world.
Population ageing has now become an emerging issue for Bangladesh as well. According to the latest population census conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2011, the percentage of elderly people in Bangladesh is only 7.5 percent. However, in terms of numbers it is a very large population – around 10.8 million. This number is forecast to rise to 17 million by the year 2025 and 43.5 million (about 25 percent of the population) in 2050. In just 34 years, one in four persons will be elderly in Bangladesh.
The growth of the aged population is higher than that of the total population growth in Bangladesh. Every year, approximately 400,000 new elderly are entered into the group of the older persons.
The median age of the Bangladesh population rose from 17 years in 1991 to 20 years in 2001 and to 23 years in 2011 (BBS, 2011). All the five summary indicators of ageing – increase in median age, increase in the ratio of aged persons to children, increase in proportion of aged persons and decrease in proportion of children suggest that the population of Bangladesh is ageing. This is an inevitable outcome of a positive demographic trend – a result of a continuous decline in fertility and mortality, and rise in life expectancy, leading to changes in the population age structure.
Our population is ageing – now what?
Global ageing is a success story. People today are living longer and generally, healthier lives – a triumph of public health, medical advancements and economic development. At the same time, ageing presents tremendous challenges, affecting economic growth, trade, migration, disease patterns and prevalence.
An ageing population comes with a host of challenges – inadequate healthcare facilities, social norms, poverty and changing family structures that are leaving older people with fewer options for care, especially as more and more women, who traditionally took on the whole burden of family care, are joining the workforce and are being unable to provide unpaid care at home.
An ageing population are now more susceptible to noncommunicable diseases than ever, and new economic challenges are emerging as well, especially in terms of labour supply, trade, and savings.
A window of opportunity
However, all is not as bleak as it seems. While the number of older people is increasing and fertility is declining, Bangladesh’s population is being dominated by working-age people, which means the ageing population will not hinder the pace of economic growth. In order to realise a demographic dividend, governments must act quickly to create decent work for working age people (including older people), increase women’s economic participation, focus on women’s education and economic empowerment, formulate policies to capitalise on population ageing, strengthen social and health care systems and develop infrastructure in the country.
Older people in Bangladesh already provide support to family members in many ways – through pensions and other incomes, by taking care of grandchildren and encouraging their education, and also by facilitating full-time employment of women simply by being the ‘senior’ who has a say in household decisions.
Older persons, particularly older women, play an important role in looking after the well-being of other family members, and are valuable resources with various capacities, skills and wisdoms that can benefit their areas and communities, and that should be passed on to younger generations.
Elderly populations are the asset of any nation. It is the responsibility of everyone to take care of our national asset and utilise their experiences. Old age is a serious reality and the last step of our life cycle. We become older by living long lives, and we deserve peace and harmony at this last step. Let the nation come forward for the well-being of our respected senior citizens in Bangladesh.
The author is Professor at Department of Applied Statistics, East West University, Dhaka