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Myanmar must prepare to face the challenges of an ageing population


Passengers disembark from a ferry onto a jetty in Yangon. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

A new census report reveals that the number of older people in Myanmar will almost triple in the next 30 years. By 2050 the number of people aged 60 and over are projected to grow from 4.5 million to 13 million – 20 per cent of the population.

“Both the Government and civil society must prepare to meet the challenges and opportunities of a gradually ageing population. Policies and programmes need to take into account the increase of older people and their needs”, says Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.

However, Myanmar does have some significant advantages, according to a statement. Compared to many other countries in the region, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, its population is ageing at a relatively slow rate. In 2050, Myanmar’s age structure will be similar to that of Singapore’s today. The gradual change gives the country time to adjust as its older population grows.

The findings come from the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census Thematic Report on the Older Population, published by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population and UNFPA. The report shows that 22 per cent of people aged 65 and above still work. The majority of these work in agriculture, which is a physically demanding sector.

 “The data suggest that economic realities oblige many people to continue heavy manual labour into old age to survive. This underlines the need for adequate social services, protection mechanisms and policies that serve older people,” says Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.

Most people over 60 were born between 1925 and 1950. Their access to education was influenced by the times through which they lived. This is why illiteracy levels are high among older people (20.9 per cent). The number is much higher for women, and it varies across the country. In Shan and Chin, for example, only one in three women over 60 can read and write.

According to the report, more older women (45.7 per cent) than older men (17.4 per cent) are widowed. This is because life expectancy is lower for men (60.2 years) than for women (69.3 years), and because women tend to marry younger. This could put older women at higher risk of isolation and deprivation, as they live out old age without their life partner. However, this is counterbalanced by the firm practice of older people living with their adult children. The marital status of an older person has very little effect on whether or not they live alone.

 “While most people are able to grow old surrounded by an extended family, there are still many people who face old age alone. Myanmar needs to develop safety nets for old people, such as a universal pension scheme,” says Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.

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