Life expectancy is growing worldwide. People are living longer.
What does it mean?
Are all people aged 60 and above in good health and able to work?
Will extended retirement age benefit them and their employers?
These are the issues being examined worldwide as the global population is ageing and the world is celebrating October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons.
Similar issues are being debated in Bangladesh too, as the country has been witnessing a steady rise in life expectancy, prompting calls for raising retirement age.
Here, additional concerns are about huge unemployment among youths and fragility of the public health system – both laid bare during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Will youths be crowded out from the job market and their entry to government jobs confronted by additional roadblocks if the pension age is extended?
Will the entry age limit for government jobs be extended accordingly?
While youths are without jobs, where will older people work? Are our older people physically fit to work for additional years?
Over 13 million people living in Bangladesh are aged over 60. In the next 30 years, one in every five Bangladeshis will be a senior citizen.
In Bangladesh, life expectancy at birth was 65 years in 2006, which is currently 72.6 years.
Living a longer life is a blessing, but it means longevity risks as well if proper financial support is not available.
Geriatric persons require more health care. Working ability ends for many people, most of the time their earnings stop or are limited severely but their living costs go up.
Even for those who are physically sound, getting a job or earning for themselves is not that easy at this age. In total, 64% of men and 13% of women aged 60 and over are in employment but their earnings are not at par with their younger peers, says a study of HelpAge, a global network campaigning for better care for older people worldwide.
By 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65, up from one in 11 now. For the first time in history, persons aged 65 or above outnumbered children under five years of age in 2018 globally.
Already, there are more than 1 billion people aged 60 years or older, with most living in low- and middle-income countries, many without minimum basic resources to live on.
These numbers tell that the world population is ageing. With the number of the ageing growing, comes the concern for health care and wellbeing expenditures for senior people.
To offset the challenges of population ageing, developed nations, which spend a substantial amount on senior citizens' wellbeing, are raising the retirement age. In the UK, men and women can claim state pension at 66 now, which will rise to 67 in 2026 and 68 years after 2037.
France, Germany, and Spain will increase the State Pension age to 67 years between 2023 and 2029.
The inevitable question here then is : How many older people are in good health to continue to work longer and earn for themselves?
Survey results do not sound promising
Adults in England are likely to stay in good health and fit for work hardly for 10 more years after 50 – shorter even than the existing retirement age.
It means, British adults aged 50 have an average healthy working life expectancy lower than the number of years to the State Pension age of 66.
The survey published in The Lancet in July, found that, from age 50, people in England are expected to spend an average of 9·42 years of their remaining lives healthy and at work.
It says the success of policies like raising the retirement age depends on the health conditions of adults aged 50 and older.
Poor health and reduced work capacity, as well as socioeconomic inequalities in health and life expectancy make it difficult to determine whether policies to extend working life can be successful, concludes the survey, calling for greater financial support from the state for disability or unemployment.
Levels of employment, job opportunities, and the inability to change jobs in response to poor health might prevent people from working for longer or lead to premature exit from employment, it adds.
In Bangladesh, the retirement age for public servants was raised to 59 years from 57 in 2011. At the same time, the demand for raising the retirement age is getting louder.
This comes in contrast to the demand being raised by students' platforms for raising the age limit for the entry into government jobs from 30 years to 32 or 35.
The demand gets stronger now as pandemic-induced closure of educational institutions has prolonged the academic life of students, in many cases, already exceeding the limit and denying some the chance to vie for government jobs.
More than 32 lakh students study undergraduate and postgraduate students are enrolled in different colleges under the National University that produces about five lakh graduates and postgraduates every year.
Students of public and private universities are also delayed by session jams which might cost many would-be graduates the chance to apply for government jobs.
Senior minister Obaidul Quader in February last year hinted that the government might raise the age limit for entry into government jobs to 35 years but it has not yet been announced.
Will a raised retirement age harm the chance of the youths seeking to enter into government jobs?
Demographers have different views.
Senior demographer Prof Dr AKM Nurun Nabi thinks retirement age should be increased to at least 65 years.
"You will be talking about turning your population into human resources, and you will be sending skilled professionals home at the prime time of maturity and wisdom—this, in no way, is wise and practical," he says.
Prof Nabi, former vice-chancellor of Begum Rokeya University, has said a synthesis of the zeal of the youths and the experience of the experienced older people could lead the nation towards the goal to be a developed nation.
"The government offers contractual jobs to civil servants after their retirement at 59. Why not extend the retirement age?
"Still in good health and quite active, a retired secretary joins an NGO and engages all the skills and experiences gathered throughout his or her service life, which could well be utilised in government jobs," Dr Nabi argued.
Like in the US and many developed countries, some specialised professions should be relieved from the retirement age barrier, he felt.
But, are all those who retire in good health able to work more?
No official data is available other than the one periodically released on life expectancy, revealing Bangladeshis are living longer.
"It doesn't mean anything if we don't know how many of them are healthy and able to work more," says Prof Dr. Mohammad Mainul Islam, chairman of Department of Population Sciences at Dhaka University.
In Bangladesh's age structure, people between 15 and 59 years of age are considered working people and all employment policies are based on it, while globally working age is considered up to 64. "If any one stays healthy and fit after 59, he or she should get the scope to work. But this is not the case for most people of this age group," he said, referring to findings of their survey of about 7,000 older people.
"We have to see healthy working life expectancy. Your life expectancy is growing, but you are suffering from back pain and cannot stand straight, that won't work," he said, stressing the need for disability-adjusted data to know the working health life of aged people from 60 to 80 years or above.
Old age is exposed to multiple health complications including risks of non-communicable diseases requiring more expenses and Covid-19 has thrown a starker light on the issue.
In the US, eight out of 10 deaths from Covid-19 are in the age group of 65 or above. Covid-19 death rate among people aged 60 and above is over 50 percent in Bangladesh.
The risk for severe health complications from Covid-19 increases with age, with people in their 60s or 70s at higher risk of developing severe crises requiring hospitalisation, intensive care, or ventilation.
"Covid-19 made it clear how vulnerable old people are to such an outbreak," Prof Mainul said.
He stressed the country needs to ensure healthcare, income security and social insurance for older people to derive benefit from a second demographic dividend.
But we should not forget that our first demographic dividend will expire in 17 years and we need to provide jobs to our youths, whose unemployment rate has doubled during the pandemic he said.
"Both the government and private sector need to work more to absorb the youths in jobs before the period of our first demographic dividend expires," Prof Mainul said.