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MENA's aging population could lead to difficult choices

Increasing life expectancy is one of the major indicators of growth and development. The Arab world has seen an increase of 16 years since the mid 70's, but unfortunately have not planned accordingly with needed infrastructure and social services to support a larger retired population. Additionally, traditional family networks are being replaced western style nuclear families making government provided social services more important.

"Due to better medical facilities and an increase in the life expectancy rate most of these countries will have a much larger elderly population than they have experienced in previous years. Life expectancy across the Arab world averages nearly 68 years, up from 52 in 1970-75. In 2000, approximately 10 million people in the MENA region were aged above 65 years; in 2030, this bracket will constitute roughly 50 million. Of course, after the youth bulge reaches its peak in 2030 the entire age structure will change and the increasing ‘grey’ population will become a significant concern in a developing region like MENA which still needs to create adequate pension funds, old age benefit plans, healthcare programs and facilities like old age homes for its senior citizens.
In Saudi Arabia for instance, the number of retirees rose from 250,000 in 2004 to 404,000

"In 2006; a majority of them were low wage earners and consequently had low pensions. Amongst the elderly population 76% are illiterate, which only adds to their level of dependency. In addition, nuclear family households are a rising trend in the region - in Saudi Arabia, 52% of elderly people currently live in such households. Without the support of traditional joint family systems, the demand for external support systems like old age homes is projected to increase in the future. At present however, free social care centers are few and far between, housing just 0.3% of the total population aged 65+."

Implications:

On the back end of the "demographic window of opportunity" there is another population bomb potentially waiting to explode. This is going to put an added pressure on the younger generation as they are forced to step in for their government and take care of their aging parents.

Expect to see decentralized, lightweight systems designed from the bottom up to create the necessary supports not provided by governments.

As young people struggle to maintain their own families they may have to make difficult choices about who to support. Economic Gangsters by Fisman and Miguel looked at the occurrence of witch hunts in Tanzania and managed to explain why the phenomenon tended to only affect elderly women. Once women became too old to work (bring in food from the farm), in the absence of government support families would have to make a difficult cost benefit analysis. Feed a child who would grow to provide financial support, or feed an aging parent who will never again be able to provide for themselves. This impossible choice usually resulted in an accusation of a witch. The accused is forced to flee from town. In response, witch shelters have crept up and once the financial hardship passes (a drought), witches sometimes return home claiming to have been cured.

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Sources:

SFG Middle East Monitor, Sept 2010
http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SFG-ME_Sept2010.pdf

demographic window of opportunity: http://rfsearchlight.clearsignals.org/node/142

Fisman, Raymond, Edward Miguel. 2008. Economic Gangsters. Princeton University Press.
http://www.economicgangsters.com/index.php