Silver Tsunami: Aging in a Shrinking Singapore

By Seth, Divya | Harvard International Review, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Silver Tsunami: Aging in a Shrinking Singapore


Seth, Divya, Harvard International Review


While many countries in the Pacific region fear tsunamis, the island nation of Singapore fears a different type of tsunami: the silver tsunami. The term refers to the rapidly increasing population of senior citizens, which is expected to increase from 8.7 percent of the population to nearly 20 percent by 2030. By 2030, it is predicted that every 1 in 5 Singaporeans will be above the age of 65. In a nation already experiencing a slowing fertility rate, such a rapid increase in the elderly population threatens to place great pressure on the social services to which Singaporean citizens are entitled. The increasing elderly population brings urgency to certain topics, such as immigrant employment, that will need to be addressed more quickly in the coming decade.

The global economic downturn has exacerbated the effects of such a rapidly aging demographic. The population pyramid of Singapore is changing such that a much larger elderly population will have to be supported by a much smaller workforce. During the economic downturn, as greater pressures were exerted on the work-force, this dependence of the elderly on the workforce became a concern. In response, the Singaporean government has had to both design new interventions to provide security to this population, as well as bolster existing social security schemes. An existing tenet of the Singaporean welfare system is the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Established in 1955, the CPF provides citizens and permanent residents returns on their savings, and further allocates workers' savings towards areas such as medical costs and retirement. In a nation awash with shopping malls, the CPF enforces saving among Singaporean citizens. In addition to CPF, a more recent scheme developed has been the ElderShield Program. By providing a monthly payment towards care, ElderShield provides financial security for the elderly as well as the disabled who may incur costs for necessary long-term care.

Yet, as people live longer and the composition of the population shifts, there will also be an increasing number of people requiring long-term care. Not only will this place pressure on the aforementioned financial security programs, but it will also challenge the fundamental values on which Singaporean society operates. As a modern society rooted in traditional Asian values, Singapore generally places the responsibility of caring for elders in the hands of their family members. However, the silver tsunami threatens to raze this system. In a traditional household, the wife would typically stay at home to take care of the children as well as aging parents. However, in this modern day, highly urbanized society, there are more and more families in which both the husband and wife work full time. The nuclear family is changing, and it no longer permits the devotion of time and service to extended family members.

At the same time, Singapore is experiencing a strain on its long-term care facilities. …

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