A group of elderly Chinese ladies sitting and relaxing on a bench in a park in Serangoon Gardens with soft early morning light (Photo by Justin Adam Lee from Shutterstock.com).

70 per cent of elderly Singaporeans still unable to meet monthly household expenses: Joint survey between Duke-NUS and MOH

A stark majority of elderly Singaporeans aged 60 and older are still unable to meet their monthly expenses, according to findings from a survey of over 4,500 Singaporeans and permanent residents carried out by the Duke-NUS Medical School’s Centre for Ageing Research and Education and the Ministry of Health.

The Straits Times reported that only around 30 per cent of the older respondents were found to have been able to meet their monthly household expenses and to have some leftover spending in 2017.

However, it marked an increase from 19.5 per cent in 2009. The increase is attributed to a rise in the number of Singaporeans with a background in higher education and have chosen to continue working at a later age.

Duke-NUS Medical School’s Centre for Ageing Research and Education’s head of research Rahul Malhotra told ST: “Higher education could mean higher income and remaining longer in the workforce”.

Around 14.6 per cent of respondents had some difficulty meeting expenses in 2017, which denotes a slight increase from 13.8 per cent in 2009. 3.8 per cent of them found it difficult to meet their monthly expenses in 2017, which is an increase from 2.4 per cent in 2009.

Rising costs of living and healthcare expenses may have contributed to older Singaporeans’ inability to meet their monthly expenses, according to researchers.

Dr Malhotra told ST: “The introduction by the Singapore Government of healthcare-related cost mitigation initiatives for the Pioneer Generation and, more recently, the Merdeka Generation, might assist but their downstream benefits and changes in the financial burden of healthcare costs need to be studied in further detail.”

However, it was noted that the survey did not specifically measure respondents’ way of spending and consumption, and have not analysed income adequacy as the dependent variable.

Additionally, the proportion of people who did not respond to the question of income inadequacy in 2009 was twice that in 2017, which was 6.2 per cent (2009) compared with 2.9 per cent (2017), ST observed.

Now one might argue that the figures have improved since 2009 for the total percentage of elders who are able to meet monthly expenses. But according to the same survey, a substantively larger proportion of older Singaporeans in 2016-2017 were working either full-time or part-time compared to those in 2009.

Overall what the figures from the survey shows is that a higher proportion of older Singaporeans in 2016-2017 were working and fewer had never worked compared to 2009. Rather than assuming more elders were able to meet their monthly expenses, it would more likely to be the case that those who managed to somehow have enough to spend in 2016-2017, had to work in some form or another in order to make ends meet.

The Transitions in Health, Employment, Social Engagement and Inter-generational Transfers in Singapore Study collects data on the respondents’ physical health and healthcare utilisation, psychological well-being, social networks, social participation, intergenerational transfers within the family, volunteerism, lifelong learning, work and retirement.