In 2020, Malaysia officially became an ageing society by World Health Organisation (WHO) standards after more than 7% of our population were 65 years or older. By 2030, more than one-fifth of our population (around 7.8 million) will be at least 50 years old.
From a statistical point of view, an ageing population is hardly good for any society. From strained public health services to reduced productivity as a nation, ageing is often cast in a negative light. But take a step back and from God’s perspective, we see a hopeful future.
What makes an ageing society?
Ageing societies are happening everywhere, not just in Malaysia. According to the WHO, there are two key drivers: longer life expectancies and declining fertility rates. As we advance in knowledge and technology, and make healthcare more accesible, we’re able to prolong the average person’s lifespan. At the same time, however, we’re having fewer children.
The Khazanah Research Institute graphed Malaysia’s population pyramids over time for a clearer picture: the wider the base, the more younger people there are than older. The two charts below show the gradual disappearance of the traditional pyramid shape as Malaysians live longer and have fewer children.
We need to move faster in laying the groundwork
In Malaysia, we entered the ‘ageing’ bracket in 2020, and in 2044 we’re expected to become an ‘aged’ society2. This comes with a new set of challenges and requires systemic transformation in order to mitigate unwanted impact and continue driving progress. Here are several areas we need to work on:
- INCLUSIVE EMPLOYMENT: Only 42.5% of Malaysians aged 55 to 64 are employed, a figure lower than in high-income countries. And of this number, close to half are self-employed.
- BETTER AGED CARE SERVICES: Aged care provided by the public sector is limited, while private aged care does not cover enough
- IMPROVED SOCIAL PROTECTION FOR OLDER PERSONS: In 2020, half of the 1.35 million individuals aged 50-54 had at only around RM40,000 in their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) Fund3 — this means RM165 a month for 20 years. If these individuals don’t have savings stashed elsewhere, retirement is not an option.
- GENDER EQUALITY IN THE WORKPLACE: Among men and women aged 50 to 60, only 17.9% of women are employed, compared to a significant 59.7% of men. The issue of gender inequality, especially in the older age brackets, continues to persist.
- REVISION OF POLICIES AFFECTING THE ELDERLY: The National Policy for Older Persons was last updated in 20114. We need to push for revisions to ensure these policies overseeing the well-being of Malaysia’s senior citizens are up-to-date and relevant to their needs.
Over the next few decades, Malaysia is expected to follow the global trend of population ageing. Although this demographic transition seems to pose severe negative socioeconomic consequences at the outset, the negative effects are not inevitable – they can be mitigated through concerted efforts by the policymakers1.KHAZANAH RESEARCH INSTITUTE
How does God see ageing?
When we consider the ageing phenomenon and how to navigate it, we can look to the Bible for timeless, godly wisdom. Through the life of Caleb (in the Old Testament), we learn that unlike the view of current society, God does not equate productivity and efficiency to age. At the age of 85, he claimed the land God had promised him so many years before. Age is truly just a number in God’s eyes.
In the same way, we can be careful not to let the strength of youth overshadow the crowning wisdom of the old. As Malaysia progresses towards a super-aged society, we need to reevaluate how we define the peak of life and recognise the God-given potential in every person to contribute and make a difference, no matter their age.
“I’m over 60 years old. How can I discover my purpose in this season?”
If you’re reading this and wondering if your prime is over, that it’s too late to do something meaningful or follow God’s call, be encouraged that God’s plans are never limited to age. Just as Caleb was as strong at 85 years old as he was in his forties, the Lord has a plan for every season of your life.
Young is not strong. Old is not strong. Strong is strong… We are only strong because we are strong in the Lord5.PS Isaac ling, sibKL
If you’re seeking direction in this different season, whether it’s retirement or having to slow down due to health issues, there are some simple ways to start:
- Go before the Lord in prayer and surrender. Ask Him to reveal to you His perfect plan for your life in this season. Listen, and when He speaks, be courageous and obey!
- Consider not what you’ve lost, but what you’ve gained. If you have more time, how can you use it to bless someone? If you can cook, who can you feed? If you’ve a wealth of experience in business, who can you mentor or guide?
- Discover the needs around you, and where your talents and knowledge can create impact. It could be your community food bank, a young family in your cell group or a senior community that could use an administrative whiz.
The bottomline is, there is no such thing as a dying generation. In God’s grand tapestry of design, as long as we’re breathing, we have a purpose. No matter our season, our time is now for in Christ, the best is always yet to come!
To browse faith-driven work in ageing around you, check out the directory here and filter the Sector: Ageing.
1. Population Ageing: Can We Live Long and Prosper, 2015, Khazanah Research Institute
2. A Silver Lining: Productive and Inclusive Aging for Malaysia, 2020, World Bank
3. Yeap C, 2021, The State of the Nation: Putting old-age security within reach of Malaysians without pension, RM1 mil savings, The Edge Malaysia
4. Loh J, 2021, Coping with the challenges of an ageing population in Malaysia, Focus Malaysia
5.Sermon: Give Me This Mountain by Ps Isaac Ling, 2022, SIBKL
6. Cover Image: Amy Elting on Unsplash