Singapore is one of the fastest aging countries on earth. In 2011, 9.3% of the population was over 65. By 2030, it’s estimated that 19% will be over 65. Fortunately, they have a comprehensive plan to help their senior citizens as they age, one that experts say the US would be wise to emulate.
The difference between Singapore’s plan and current plans and strategies in the US has a lot to do with how elders are viewed in both nations. Unlike the US, Singapore is heavily influenced by Confucian beliefs of respecting one’s elders and filial piety. There, elders are seen as a powerful resource, whereas in the US elders are often sadly seen as a burden. As Paul Irving, chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute in the US, puts it, “They [Singaporeans] get that older people represent a human capital asset that can improve the country… We need leaders at all levels understanding this.”
Singapore’s $2.1 billion “A Nation for All Ages” plan includes building a post-secondary education center for elders called the National Silver Academy that will help elders develop new and useful skills; encouraging and providing opportunities for elders to do volunteer work; starting a therapeutic gardening initiative for elders living with dementia; and housing child-care and elder-care centers together to encourage intergenerational bonding.
“To my knowledge, there’s nothing here [in the US] even under discussion that resembles the thoughtful, forward-looking, and comprehensive approach embodied in the new plan from Singapore, a gulf reflected in the recent White House Conference on Aging, which for example barely touched on the continued contribution of older people to the economy or to society,” said American author on aging Marc Freedman. “By stark contrast, Singapore’s plan offers a framework for how we might go about transforming the purported zero-sum prospect of the aging society into a potential human capital windfall and a source of cross-generational harmony. We should see this effort as a challenge."