Are older people a national resource? Here is what needs to be celebrated
Older people’s participation in the labour market, their invaluable contribution to families as care givers, to communities as volunteers, leaders, decision-makers and to society as well as economy at large increasingly needs to be recognised and acknowledged.
Especially as demographers project by 2030, worldwide the number of people aged 60 and above will exceed that of young people aged 15 to 24.
By-Mala Kapur Shankardass
Older people’s participation in the labour market, their invaluable contribution to families as care givers, to communities as volunteers, leaders, decision-makers and to society as well as economy at large increasingly needs to be recognised and acknowledged. Today, when statistics indicate the number of older persons globally is set to increase by 56%—from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion between the period 2015 to 2030—and more and more countries are ageing and becoming aged, older people as a resource is a social and economic reality to be faced. Especially as demographers project by 2030, worldwide the number of people aged 60 and above will exceed that of young people aged 15 to 24.
The United Nations observed the International Day of Older Persons on October 1. Tapping into the often overlooked and under-appreciated contributions of older persons is not only essential to older persons’ well-being, but also imperative for sustainable development processes. All countries together and in particular India and China—who have the largest number of older people in the world and where older people are generally considered more of a burden than a priority for development—need to explore effective means of promoting and strengthening the participation of older persons in various aspects of social, cultural, economic and civic and political life.
A report by Age UK published in 2014 revealed people aged 65 and over in the UK contributed £61 billion to the economy through employment, informal caring and volunteering. A couple of years earlier, in 2012, statistics of the country indicated older generations contributed almost £27 billion to the society through unpaid care, charitable and voluntary work, which was an increase by almost £2 billion in the last 12 months, according to MGM Advantage’s 2012 Retirement Nation report. The report found that the older generation, meaning those approaching and in retirement, gave the society each year an average of 75 hours in charitable work at a value of £5.7 billion, and 73 hours in voluntary community work at a value of £5.5 billion. Older people also provide 326 hours in free care for grandchildren, parents and other family members, saving the family economy £15.5 billion in the previous year in UK as per a news coverage in The Telegraph in 2012.
In India, though we don’t have available detailed statistics on older persons’ contribution to the economy, certain studies and NGOs’ experience does indicate that dependence of families on caring of young children by grandparents is an age-old tradition and is also increasing with urbanisation and migration of young adults. Older women, in particular, are involved with care-giving activities in the family, including rearing of young children, cooking, cleaning and other household chores, while older men along with care-giving contributed by way of shopping for household items, payment of bills and other household activities, getting more involved with volunteering in the community and society, in the field of religion, education, cultural activities and so on.
Significantly, work participation of older women is less compared to that of older men, but there is higher incidence of work participation of women living alone compared with those living with spouses or others. Self-employment by older people as owners of small and big ventures, as consultants or with other options across the world, is increasing with ageing of the workforce and we need progressive government initiatives and sound policies to support such endeavours.
Older people, ironically, despite the huge contribution they make to the economy and society, are mostly unpaid or low-paid, and generally work in the informal sector, mainly as main workers in the labour market, or as unskilled paid workers more due to economic and other compulsions than choice, and also as carers of young children, ageing spouses as well as of disabled adult children in families. Over the years, with ageing of the populations, the numbers of older persons’ contribution to the society at large is not only increasing, they are also putting in more and more hours of service. There is, of course, a growing concern that older people who work are depriving the younger people of jobs, however, as many economists state, the evidence from many ageing countries is clear that employing older workers does not affect the number of jobs available to the younger people. Keeping this in view, we need to stop age discrimination in the labour market and give opportunities to older people for both full-time and part-time work, along with third-age opportunities for skill development if they so desire.
It is seen that with ageing of population the financial contribution of older people to families is growing in terms of expenditures towards the household. A study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in seven states of India (Report on the Status of Elderly in Select States of India, 2011) revealed that 52% of older people contribute their personal income towards the expenditure of the household and this does not vary very much across rural and urban areas, though the contribution is more on behalf of older men (71%) compared to women (36%). Besides, older people have a lot more to contribute to society in terms of advice, guidance to the younger generation, as political leaders and also as role models with their experience, knowledge, skills and talents. Rightfully, older persons’ contribution to the society and economy needs to be acknowledged as we move towards fulfilling the agenda of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030 with a focus on leaving nobody behind and especially as we celebrated the International Day of Older Persons with the theme “Stepping into the Future: Tapping the Talents, Contributions and Participation of Older Persons in Society.” Older people have a lot to give to the society and this needs to be celebrated. Let’s not call them off when they still have a lot to contribute to and sustain the economy and society.
The author is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi.