An ageing population? – Part 4

~by: Gordon Lee~

Welcome to the last part of this article. In the previous three parts, I have hopefully shown that an ageing population is not as bad as this Government would have you believe. This issue has been unfortunately politicised to serve certain political imperatives, and has become a part of the collective consciousness of this country.

In Part Three, I suggested that falling birthrates are a natural response to social and economic changes, and that policies designed to reverse falling birthrates are instead worsening the conditions causing the phenomenon. I also outlined how this Government’s “war” on females and the elderly is extremely unhealthy.

Now, in Part Four, I intend to not only show that an ageing population is not bad, but also to suggest some potential benefits of an ageing population. Hopefully, this will add a different perspective and depth to the public debate.


Older people can be more involved in volunteering than other age groups – as illustrated by research conducted in Australia [1], the Netherlands, Finland and France [2].

Whilst this may not currently be the case in Singapore, this Government can learn from best practices around the world to encourage older people to not only work past retirement, but also to contribute to society through volunteering. This Government can also look at removing some of the obstacles to volunteering by older people, and prevent the social exclusion which many older people face. This is active ageing which benefits both the old, and society at large. Ideas such as a national body or programme to encourage volunteering by older people, or a fund to support such programmes – can help create a healthy old, a healthy mind, and a healthy society.

Although volunteering does not contribute to GDP figures, they do create value in society because the work they do is useful. Simply put, if a volunteer and a paid staff undertakes the same work, the same value is created. The only difference is that the work of the volunteer does not show up in GDP figures, but the work done by the paid staff does. The value created by volunteering was estimated at £41bn for the UK in 1995 [3], and $41bn for Australia in 1997 [4].


There is also reason to believe that an ageing population is responsible for falling crime rates around the world – be it in the US [5], Canada [6] or New Zealand [7]. This is not only socially beneficial, but in terms of public finances, it also reduces the costs of policing and incarceration.

A happier population

Studies suggest that the old are happier than the rest of the population [8][9][10]. It is also said that being around happy people makes us happy – which means a happier and more satisfied society at large.

Other social benefits

Older people also benefit those around them by being able to provide experience, wisdom, practical and financial help – not least since the old today are healthier and wealthier than ever before. They also help to constitute an experienced workforce that is valued in a world of work that is no longer as manual or physically demanding as they once were.

The older generation is, in many ways, a social asset and resource that should be valued, not “blamed”.


I am concerned that most of the “debate” surrounding an ageing population seems to be an inability (or refusal) to see changes as a transition rather than a crisis. Lee Kuan Yew said, “Less young people means less sales of new cars, new stereos, new computers, new iPhones, iPads, new clothes, and fine dining.”[11] But I am not sure if he understands that this is merely an economy in transition, with consumption patterns changing such that we will instead see more golf clubs, more smart elderly-friendly technology (such as mobility devices), more leisure and recreation, more Internet shopping, more spending by grandparents on grandchildren, etc.

Instead of trying to fight an ageing population, perhaps this Government should instead focus its energy on making Singapore more elderly-friendly, making the economy more responsive to the demands of a changing and ageing local and international economy, and making it easier to capture and enhance the benefits of an ageing population.

[1], p. ix [2], pp. 14-16 [3], p. 2 [4], p. ix [5] [6], p. 30 [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.