Elderly Poverty in Malaysia“I have heard of a friend who had six to seven children. Although some of them, husband and wife earn RM2,000- RM3,000 per month, they do not seem to offer to help their parents; at least RM200 is sufficient. But instead, they tell their mother, ‘I need RM200 from you, I want to pay for my house, my car and my children’s education.’ You have this kind of people. That is considered financial abuse.” This is a quote from a 68-year-old elder in Malaysia who participated in a study published by the ASM Science Journal. His words reflect the situation of elderly poverty in Malaysia and the intergenerational problem the society faces as the population ages. Here are three facts about elderly poverty in Malasyia.

3 Facts About Elderly Poverty in Malaysia

  1. Aging populations have few sources of income. Malaysia is a nation located in Southeast Asia and like many high-income countries, its population is rapidly aging. In fact, according to the World Bank, Malaysia will transition from its current state of an “aging” society to an “aged” society in the next two decades, going from 7% of the population being older than 65 to 14% by 2044. However, according to Dr. Soon Ting Kueh, “We feel Malaysia is not quite prepared for an aging society and hope the government will look into these problems soon.” Exacerbated by the relatively low minimum retirement age in Malaysia, only 45.2% of the population between the age of 55 and 64 has a job. Although people in this age group are more likely to be self-employed or work part-time, oftentimes, they no longer have a source of income.
  2. Financial security is harder for women. According to the World Bank, the gap in the employment rate is most obvious in the 50 to 60 age group. In Malaysia, only 17.9% of women in this demographic have a job compared to 59.7% of men. This may also be because more women are self-employed or work at home without pay. However, because of their unemployment status, women often have less coverage in terms of social insurance. One measurement of social security for the elderly in Malaysia is their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) balance, or how much money they were able to invest in a federal savings and retirement plan. According to the World Bank, men tend to have around RM233,000 ($51,260) in their EPF account compared to RM177,000 ($39,000) for women. This highlights the differences between the two groups and how financial security is harder to obtain for elderly women, which contributes to elderly poverty in Malaysia.
  3. Lack of geriatric care. Because older people are more vulnerable to diseases (chronic or not), they make up over 20% of admissions to Malaysia’s public hospitals. However, the development of geriatric care and health facilities has not kept up with the rate at which Malaysia’s population is aging. Not only is there a lack of geriatric infrastructure, but there is also a lack of community care, home care and other rehabilitation services. According to The Gerontologist, this may be because elders in Malaysia traditionally depended on the “family support system” that many Asian cultures emphasize. However, with the passage of time and modernization, these responsibilities have slowly transferred from the family to social structures, putting a large demand on public health care that is currently unavailable in this country. Coupled with the larger vulnerability to illnesses, the amount of money the elderly must pay for health care also depletes their savings and contributes to elderly poverty in Malaysia.

Making a Change

As the quote in the beginning suggests, the elderly are especially vulnerable when it comes to financial stability because, after retirement, many must financially rely on their children for income, or in some cases even fund their children’s expenditures.

Thankfully, NGOs such as The National Council of Senior Citizens Organizations Malaysia (NACSCOM) are rallying for the elderly of Malaysia. Established in 1990, NACSCOM has around 20,000 members worldwide and cooperates with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development of Malaysia to push government action and legislation in areas such as elderly health care.

The Old Folks Home they established in 2007 currently has 20 residents, and three day centers that were established across Malaysia continuously provide learning programs for the elderly.

As the population ages, elderly poverty in Malaysia may become an even more difficult issue. Coupled with the lack of quality health care, elderly people sometimes have to engage in part-time jobs or self-employment in order to escape elderly poverty. However, with the combined efforts of NGOs and the government, geriatric infrastructure and reforms for accessible health care may not be far from the future. With this in mind, hopefully, senior citizens could soon be able to live without financial vulnerability in Malaysia.

Emilie Zhang
Photo: Unsplash