Friday 17 October 2014

IPS study on ageing: Most seniors optimistic about their future

But only 4 in 10 agree that elders have little to worry about
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2014

MOST seniors in Singapore have a positive outlook about growing old, but are less optimistic about seniors' ageing in general.

A recent survey of more than 2,000 Singapore residents aged between 50 and 74 found that eight in 10 were confident that their needs would be taken care of as they grew older.

However, the survey commissioned by the Council for Third Age (C3A), a government-funded group that promotes active ageing, also found that only four in 10 agreed that "in general most elder Singaporeans have little to worry about".

This was one of the key findings from the study on the perception and attitudes towards ageing and seniors which was conducted between October last year and January this year.

Almost all agreed that successful ageing comprises being physically active and financially independent, and most agreed that lifelong learning would help them keep up with changes. Many also felt that older people were well- respected in society.

Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) senior research fellow Mathew Mathews and National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan, who released their report on the survey yesterday, said that respondents' positive outlook on ageing was "quite remarkable".

Associate Professor Straughan explained that the finding was surprising because before the Pioneer Generation Package was rolled out, there was little focus on the elderly, with most policies geared towards the education and careers of the younger generation.

C3A chief executive Soh Swee Ping said: "In the past, ageing had been addressed in a negative light, and instilled the feeling of being a burden. But the conversation on ageing has begun moving towards a more positive one."

Explaining the difference in the respondents' outlook on their ageing and on seniors' ageing in general, Dr Mathews said: "In Singapore, we generally accept that things will work out, but that doesn't stop us from feeling that we have to be concerned about matters."

The respondents' housing type may also be another reason for the difference in perception - only seniors living in three-room or larger homes were polled.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that with most respondents coming from at least lower-middle class households, this could be why they are confident of their needs being met but do not say the same for seniors in general.

The researchers said that they excluded those living in smaller flats in the study as they were in "rather different contexts compared to the seniors of the future".

Respondents were also asked about what they are likely to pursue in future. Their top three goals were: pursuing a healthy lifestyle (88 per cent), pursuing spiritual goals (69 per cent) and finding new friendships (68 per cent).

Finance manager Karen Goh said she was confident that she would age well in Singapore and plans to stay put.

"I'm still comfortable here... The Government has been doing more to enhance health-care coverage for seniors, so I'm not too worried about health-care costs," said the 52-year-old.

Majority of elderly Singaporeans hope to continue working after retirement: IPS report
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia15 Oct 2014

Most elderly people in Singapore are keen to continue working after retirement, according to an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) report on a survey commissioned by the Council for Third Age. It covered more than 2,000 people between the ages of 50 and 74.

The survey, released on Wednesday (Oct 15), found that 90 per cent of respondents felt that working after retirement is a good way to stay financially independent, stay connected with society and offers the elderly a sense of self-worth.

But while the outlook on working after retirement was positive, it was a different story when it came to actually being in a job.

Only 53 per cent of respondents said there were sufficient job opportunities for seniors in the current job market. Nearly half (48 per cent) said there were no suitable jobs that could match their qualifications and experience.

The survey noted an overwhelming perception - more than 60 per cent of respondents - that potential employers prefer to hire younger workers. About a third also said they felt their lack of job hunting skills was a barrier to continued employment. 


The issue of employability is a complex one for seniors, the report’s researchers said. “Increasing optimism for employability has to involve both greater buy-in from employers and also more realistic expectations by seniors about work and the need for retraining,” the report said. “Redesigning work to make it more manageable and flexible is a step in the right direction since it allows seniors to participate in the workforce, though hopefully at a pace they are comfortable with."

IPS' senior research fellow, Dr Mathew Mathews, elaborated: "It is kind of complicated. On the one hand, it is about new ways of doing work, redesigning work, such that you are able to not demand the same kind of hours and allow a certain amount of flexibility. Because we do recognise that people at the older stage may not want to work the same kind of level, they want to pursue other activities as well. So some redesign of work would be very crucial."

Employers must also be able to see that older workers can make valuable contributions, noted Dr Mathews. "There is always that perception that jobs which are meant for seniors are fairly menial - these are not the kind of jobs which can tap on to the pre-existing skills that seniors have. Seniors have a lot of experience and jobs need to take that into consideration."

Deputy CEO of the Employment & Employability Institute (e2i) Ms Ang Li May said that when the institute works with employers, it tells them to look at mature workers as people with years of experience who can contribute to the organisation. 

She added: "Internally, we also work with training providers to design programmes to guide HR and line managers on how to recruit based on competencies. So from that aspect, when employers are aware of how they can recruit based on competencies and when we refer people who are competent to the employers, hopefully there will be a job match."


The study found that most of the seniors in Singapore have a positive attitude towards lifelong learning. Nearly 90 per cent said it helps them to stay relevant, while more than 60 per cent said it can help them improve their skills to get ahead in their careers.

However, only 58 per cent of respondents had knowledge of Continuing Education and Training courses offered in places accessible to them, and just 17 per cent had enquired about a course that could help them stay employed.

Respondents also said they preferred a less formal classroom setting for learning. With the seniors’ different learning needs and varied preferences for learning, the report’s researchers recommended options such as informal classrooms and courses guided by seniors.

Dr Mathews said: "The issue is if I go for lifelong learning and it does not translate to a job, then what is the point? But if people can begin to see that lifelong learning is valuable in itself, you grow as a person, there is information and skills you develop.

"That itself is very meaningful, the social connections you can make in that process. If more are able to see that, then the interest in being part of lifelong learning will increase."


Training providers said teaching seniors is a totally different ball game. Their needs are different from younger learners. Some require basic coaching in the area of resume writing and interviewing skills. Courses also need to be re-designed to include less formal classroom settings, and more hands-on learning, or even seniors teaching other seniors.

"Mature workers with deep passion and convictions gravitate to what they feel deeply about, associate with peers they can identify with and feel validated and affirmed when they are part of the teaching as much as being a learner themselves," said Mr David Kwee, CEO of Training Vision Institute, which conducts courses for adult learners. 

He added: "Setting up a structure, a process, a set of activities to enable them to learn, to share and to co-create value through learning for living - this makes them and the world they live in a richer, better and more meaningful place."

Working after retirement a plus for most seniors
Study also finds older folk value slower pace, lifelong learning
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2014

OLDER people have a positive view of working after retirement and see lifelong learning as a way to better manage daily life and keep up with the times. But the majority prefer to enjoy a slower pace of life after decades of hard work.

Other barriers such as age discrimination and a lack of suitable jobs may also hold them back, a recent study commissioned by the government-funded Council for Third Age found. A report on the survey, which looked at perceptions and attitudes of 2,006 Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 50 to 74, was released on Wednesday by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

Continuing to work after retirement is viewed positively by seniors, with nine in 10 seeing it as a way to stay financially independent, socially connected and have a sense of self-worth.

The need for cash is a large driver for post-retirement work, said labour economist Hui Weng Tat from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, as only around a quarter of active Central Provident Fund members turning 55 can meet the Minimum Sum fully without pledging property. Just over half the survey respondents rated their current (54 per cent) and future (52 per cent) financial adequacy as "good/very good/excellent". The rest gave a "poor/below average/average" rating.

But more seniors should be able to work, said Prof Hui. "The labour shortage means older workers are facing better job prospects."

At the same time, many older workers may want a break.

Over 63 per cent of the respondents were deterred from working as they want a slower pace of life.

Part-time shop assistant John Koh, 70, said he needs income to cover living expenses, but works only two days a week. "On other days, I can do some learning, take care of my grandson and take my wife out," he said.

But only a third intend to take up a formal course to retrain themselves. The majority look for informal settings, such as being taught or mentored by a fellow senior. Some are Internet savvy, with 37 per cent intending to learn through an online course.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews and National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan wrote in their report on the survey that there should different learning options for seniors. "We should not merely imprint the model used for teaching young people on older persons since their motivations for learning differ substantially."

Former draughtsman Margaret Lee, 60, retired five years ago as her job was too stressful and her four children had grown up. She has since been attending classes on technology, social media and dancing with her husband, retired engineering supervisor Thomas Chong, 62. She hopes to pick up quilting and said: "I can make a blanket for grandchildren in the future."

Family duties hinder many seniors: Survey
Fulfilling responsibilities a main barrier to their pursuing interests
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

WITH three grandchildren aged four to 11 to care for, retiree Cheam Liew Tin admits that this sometimes makes it difficult for her to pursue her interests.

"My friends can travel as and when they want and need not worry much about clashing schedules," said the 68-year-old.

"But family comes first, and I've still managed to find time to volunteer and be involved in grassroots activities."

Like her, fulfilling family responsibilities - besides factors such as age - seems to be a main barrier for seniors in doing what they want.

Nearly 40 per cent of those polled said they were sometimes or often hindered by family duties, according to a survey of more than 2,000 Singapore residents aged 50 to 74.

This is compared with about 36 per cent and 45 per cent of them saying they were held back because of age or shortage of money, respectively.

The Council for Third Age commissioned the survey, which was conducted between October last year and January this year. The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) released a report on the findings on Wednesday.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who wrote the report with National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan, told The Straits Times: "Just ensuring that you have to have the house cleaned and provide homecooked meals is enough of a family responsibility to prevent some people from pursuing a hobby."

As for caregiving duties, the survey found that only about half of those polled were likely to care for an ageing spouse, parent, relative or a grandchild in the future.

This is despite the fact that most respondents' social networks are based on family ties.

The researchers warned that changing norms may lead to weaker family ties. "As more singles and childless couples (get older), we need to debunk the traditional expectation that the needs of the elderly can be taken care of by the family," they wrote, calling for more community social support.

But the survey found that the community involvement of seniors was limited. Less than 10 per cent of them took part in grassroots activities or courses at least once a month, and nearly six in 10 did not intend to join social groups catering to older people.

Touch Seniors Activity Centre director Julia Lee said: "Many seniors prefer to keep to themselves after they have retired and may lack the courage to proactively interact with others."

The centre, she said, gets feedback from participants so it can plan programmes that better cater to the interests of seniors and get them to come back for more.

The thorns in rosy active ageing study
By Radha Basu Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2014

A NEW study on older folk's attitudes towards ageing released this week has plenty of good news.

A staggering eight in 10 of the respondents polled felt confident that their needs would be taken care of as they aged. They also appear to enjoy a good quality of life, with nearly seven in 10 saying they often looked forward to each day.

Nearly nine in 10 reported that their mobility was good to excellent and about two-thirds felt the same about their general health.

The study was commissioned by the Council for Third Age (C3A), a state-funded group that promotes active ageing, and conducted by senior research fellow Mathew Mathews from the Institute of Policy Studies at the National University of Singapore and Associate Professor Paulin Tay Straughan from NUS' Department of Sociology.

It polled 2,000 or so Singapore residents aged between 50 and 75, and aimed to provide data on the experience of ageing and the kinds of social activities that seniors were involved in or open to.

The respondents were also asked for their perception of successful ageing and their views of lifelong learning and employability.

Singapore is one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world, with nearly 405,000 people aged 65 and above, up from around 250,000 a decade ago.

This number is projected to grow to 900,000 by 2030. In a field dominated by gloomy narratives - think the "silver tsunami" - the study will no doubt bring cheer to policymakers and the public alike.

But there are a couple of caveats that need to be kept in mind while digesting the 75-page report. First, it does not include two key groups of older folk who are more likely to be less positive: those aged above 75 and those who live in one- and two- room HDB flats, primarily the elderly poor.

The study will no doubt help in formulating active-ageing policies for future cohorts of the elderly. The authors say the two groups mentioned above were excluded because they live in "rather different contexts compared to seniors of the future".

That may well be true, but leaving these groups out makes the study incomplete - and possibly a tad skewed. Studies by the Housing Board in 2008 showed that a disproportionate number of older folk lived in subsidised rental flats.

Of the overall HDB population, 3 per cent lived in such flats, compared to 8.9 per cent of those aged 65 and above. The numbers may well have gone up since.

Meanwhile, research from Europe and the United States shows that subjective well-being - or how satisfied people are with their lives - tends to increase in older adults, before declining sharply from the mid-70s.

Excluding the "old-old" - those aged above 75 - from the C3A survey may also have predisposed it to rosier results.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is worth noting that the study measures attitudes - and while positive attitudes are a big gift as people age - there can be a gap between perception and reality. There may also be differences between what respondents say and what they do.

For instance, the report notes that voluntary work was viewed by about eight out of 10 respondents as a good way to stay socially connected, and lead a meaningful life. However, less than half of the respondents reported that they would consider volunteering in the next few years.

Yet, despite the largely sanguine results, there are some concerns which need to be fleshed out by more studies. Finances and employability are two key areas. Although the study excluded the poorest groups of the elderly - those living in HDB rental flats - nearly four in 10 respondents listed the state of their finances as "average" and one in 10 listed it as "below average" or "poor". And while the vast majority said staying employed would help them remain independent and engaged, about half also expressed apprehensions about whether there would be enough job options for them.

This study will no doubt be useful in formulating policies to keep older folk active and engaged. But since they are based largely on subjective self-assessments, they must be complemented regularly by those that look at data on the actual state the elderly are in.

While Singapore's health indices are generally good - life-expectancy rates are among the highest in the world - it would be useful to have studies that measure whether with people living longer, they continue to be independent well into old age.

More detailed data and information on finances and sources of income support for the elderly would also help.

This is especially necessary after the latest National Survey of Senior Citizens, in 2011, found that 60 per cent of older folk who worked did so primarily for financial reasons. The study noted that the proportion of elderly who listed transfers from children as the main source of income fell by about 20 per cent between 1995 and 2011, while those who cited income from paid employment rose by about 10 per cent.

Was this because the parents willingly eschewed their children's help in favour of working? Or were they forced to work because their children could not or would not help them? We don't know.

Finally, while periodic research studies are good, the Government also needs to make public more data on the state of the elderly.

As people live longer and more remain employed, it is particularly important to track income levels vis-a-vis the hours worked. Data from the Ministry of Manpower shows that while the number of workers aged 65 and above who earn more than $1,000 per month has quadrupled over the past decade, the vast majority - 70 per cent - still earn less than $2,000.

Are their earnings low because the majority prefer to work part-time? How many of them earn so little despite working full-time? We don't know as the data is not publicly available.

As Singapore ages, it needs not just more research but also more state data to ensure that the generation that helped build this nation has enough resources to live out their last years in comfort and contentment.

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