13 July 2006

Singaporeans, Retirement & Old Age

Ooh, I feel important now. The Institute of Policy Studies has just cited my blog in connection with HSBC's study on the global future of retirement. I'm told that IPS also provided a hyperlink to my blog in the latest issue of their e-newsletter.

Frankly it seems rather obvious to me that as the years go by, Singaporeans will tend to retire later and later. And that's because they will slowly but surely come to understand that they are living longer and longer. Life expectancies for Singaporeans have been slowly but steadily creeping upwards year after year.

My hope would be that over the next decade or so, the Singapore job market evolves such that employers become much more flexible in how they employ people (in terms of working days and hours etc).

For example, if you're a senior citizen, the thought of working full-time may be somewhat daunting or painful; you might not have the stamina or energy; and furthermore you may not even need the full-time pay. But you may actually like and do well in a job for which you only need to work, say, five half-days a week only, or three full days, or only on a project basis etc.

I can also imagine a future Singapore where many senior citizens are happy to be working. See, in your 20s to 50s, you probably work mainly for money, since you need it to pay your mortgage and raise your kids. As you grow older, those liabilities eventually come to an end, and you will also (hopefully) have accumulated a decent nest egg. Paradoxically, as a senior citizen, this frees you to work at jobs which you choose because you enjoy the work, and not merely because it pays you well.

Anyway, here is, in my opinion, Singapore's most inspiring senior citizen. She founded the Home for the Aged Sick in 1965 and she served as full-time Matron of the home until she was 85. Today she's 107 years old, she's still taking care of the old (you know, those poor folks 10, 20 or 30 years younger than herself), she recently helped orphans in Cambodia and she's also become an award-winning yoga teacher.

The remarkable Teresa Hsu.

This makes you think twice about the meaning of old, doesn't it?

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DramaMama said...

I had the pleasure of meeting with Teresa on a number of occasions, a few years ago and came away impressed. I thought to myself, even if I'm half of what she is at that age, I'd be happy. She is truly inspirational. She is rich, not in wealth, but in love and kindness and she knows by taking care of herself, she can help take care of others (much, much younger than she is!)

venitha said...

I was astonished at the Singaporeans' attitudes when a friend and mentor and fellow US expat retired recently. They seemed to think that this meant his life was over and he would just go somewhere and die now. A sad statement about how people here just don't know how to enjoy life!

paddychicken said...

Sometimes we seem to trumpet the fact that we are able to find employment for our elderly. That they can extend their usefulness to society.

Heck, when I'm old I wouldn't want to be working! And certainly not cleaning tables or serving McD's.

simplesandra said...

And that's because they will slowly but surely come to understand that they are living longer and longer.

Sometimes I wonder: if we're going to have to work our socks off in our greying years just to put bread on the table, how long can we live (or should I say, how much can the body take) even with the best medical care in the world?

The upper-crust might get to live longer, but for the rest, life is still dirt cheap. :)

le radical galoisien said...

Well it really depends on what kind of work. The issue of age is quite conflicting at times. On one hand, you have discrimination. On the other, you have gerontocracy (hey Mr. LKY, ever think about retiring and becoming a private citizen?).

I've met a pretty old French-speaking Malay taxi driver who drove taxis because he was tired stayign at home.

Serving MCDs or sweeping roads is one thing lah (which is frankly apalling), but then why don't we have elderly journalists, or elderly bloggers, while we have an elderly man still ruling the country who doesn't wish to relinquish power?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Paddychicken, are there really no jobs which you would be interested in doing, if you were a healthy senior citizen today?

Think of it this way - so many kinds of hobbies & pastimes (that people do for free) could possibly be turned into at least some kind of part-time job or alternative source of income (assuming you are good enough at it, and regardless of whether you're young or old). Examples:

photography (for weddings or for magazines etc);

giving tuition;

giving piano lessons;

tennis lessons;
cooking or baking;

giving yoga lessons (Teresa Hsu);

breeding pets and selling them (some people who breed pedigree dogs / pedigree cats / expensive fish for sale);

importing / exporting fine wines (Porcorosso, we know who, right?);

writing (Tan Sai Siong & Catherine Lim are both senior citizens, you know);

art (my brother & sister-in-law paint in their free time and sell their art for anything between $500 - $2,000 per piece);

nannying (good for senior citizens who are healthy and like small children);


Personally, if I were 68 and healthy, I wouldn't mind teaching law on a part-time basis (something easy like, say, Business Law to business students, two tutorial classes per week).


I have an uncle who retired at 55 and decided to sit around and relax and "dang si" (wait to die -his own words). Now he's 80 years old and still very healthy. He said to me once that if he'd known he had to "dang anay gu" (wait so long), he'd have started some little business long ago and that would at least have occupied him for some part of the past 25 years.

25 years is a long time to be bored, you know.

Anonymous said...

The IPS is just a bunch of bullshit artistes. Just read this:
quote: Dr Sarah Harper, director of the United Kingdom's Oxford Institute of Ageing, which conducted the survey, said: "The message that is coming out of Singaporean people and the Singaporean employer is that we value older workers and we want to work longer." unquote
Oh yeah? Lots of Singaporeans NEED to work longer because there's not enough in the CPF account to pay off the housing loan! And please do us a favor by listing those companies who will will hire anyone over 50, civil service deparments included. Toilet cleaner, nightshift jaga, sweeper jobs excluded.
The IPS was wrong about the elections (good government better more important than bread and butter issues), it's probably wrong about everything else. One suspects it's just a front to promote gahment policies and propaganda.

Anonymous said...

"if I were 68 and healthy, I wouldn't mind teaching law on a part-time basis..."
Reality check: send out a fake resume, using present qualifications and work experience, and change only your date of birth. Nothing drastic, say you just collected your CPF. See how many Singaporean companies will grant you an interview, even for a part-time job.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I know there is this problem. That is why I wrote that the Singapore job market needs to evolve such that employers become much more flexible in how they employ people.

There will however be a difference between Singapore's senior citizens of today and Singapore's senior citizens of the future.

The average 70-year-old in Singapore today is probably very poorly educated (don't forget, in his schooling years, Singapore was a poor, war-torn country). The average 70-year-old in Singapore in 2030, however, is much likelier to be well-educated, and to have been aware of the need to have relevant skills etc.

Anonymous said...

I think being occupied after retirement is different from being gainfully employed.

Doing part-time hobby stuff is fine for kopi money and battling boredom.

However, in Singapore, very few have such luxury.

Most need to be gainfully employed, that is, able to pay off mortgages and bills.

I think that's the tragedy.

How one wants to while away the golden years is very personal.

I think that is not an issue unless there is a study to show that old and bored people destroys the social fabric of the nation.

However, more should be done for those who really need to work. Cleaning toilets and collecting dishes at hawker centres are really not my cup of tea. Even if they are certified to be highly skilled jobs!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say your take on this come across as the musings of a member of the bourgeoisie. Many older Singaporeans have to work in their golden years. Many lost jobs in their middle age and suffered an income plunge, their incomes becoming even lower as they aged. $1,000 per month in future will not cover rent, conservancy, food, utilities, transport and medical fees. Yet how many ordinary people out there can save $1,000 per month for old age ? "Our wonderful PAP track record" effectively leads to a stressful end game of starting a career as a food court or hawker centre cleaner at 60. We don't expect handouts nor do we expect a guarantee of jobs but if S'pore has no place for us when we are old because the cost of living is too high, then what relevance does the PAP have for us ? Your blog and the comments, sorry, don't even come close to reflecting this anger. Brown's blog does.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Errr, I wasn't talking about costs of living actually. Sorry you're angry.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely concur with anon who said this is the musing of a bourgeoisie class.
Many folks from other parts of the world are facing huge social problems due to globalisation. We are just a thin hair luckier but beginning to see the side effects manifesting.
As evidence now, there is no job security and there won't be in the future to come as long as we allow the businessmen to lead our economy let alone finding fulfilling jobs for everyone.
However,some senior citizens will be luckier than others but that would only account for only the minority. In the current economy, the value of the older workers have already diminished. I do not foresee their value raised nor their importance elevated as long as it is a youth or lust driven economy(that explain why salary and the porfolio of older workers suck today!).

I believe in the "sabbath rest" and that we should not alter the laws of the season of a man's life without suffering consequences.

No one should be made to work for money all their lives. And that's the desperate direction we are taking now to keep this city economically afloat.

paddychicken said...

Oops I totally forgot I left a comment here. Sorry for the late response. Just thought I'd point out that there are the people who amuse themselves in old age because they can't sit still, and there are those who have to keep working to survive. And in Singapore, the more visible ones are the latter. And for those with no cpf, and since we have no social security, they will just add to this number.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Mr Wang, Yur website is great. I see all these arguements/comments as useful to bring about awareness that one just have to plan for their retirement, not just financially, but also in other ways like being engaged socially. It saddens me of course to see old folks like me, cleaning tables, toilet cleaners to erk out a living. But won't that be better than to brood whilst idling away at the void decks and lament that the Gahmen shd do this and that. Is good that we do what we can whilst we can? God bless us all:)