By Miao Jia, Research Assistant Professor of Division of Social Science, HKUST
By 2064, Hong Kong's number of elderly (aged 65 and older) will reach 2.58 million, accounting for 36 percent of the population.
Today this percentage stands at 16, with one third of the elderly living in poverty.
These staggering figures pose severe challenges to our society, thus studying the well-being of Hong Kong's elderly is vital to developing the right solutions.
Since 2010, our Center for Applied Social and Economic Research team at HKUST has been conducting surveys of 3,200 families, 7,200 adults and 950 children every two years (The Hong Kong Panel Study of Social Dynamics), looking into how our society is transformed over time and how various government and social policies are influencing families.
Our research has found that most elderly and their children would like to live independently from each other, but constrained by Hong Kong's astronomical housing prices, they are forced to be cramped together.
Despite the undesirable living circumstances, there are ways to ensure the elderly enjoy good quality living conditions while housed with other family members. Maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of the elderly can be enhanced by participation in communal activities or engaging in hobbies, and they could enjoy higher social cohesion.
Social cohesion is the willingness of a community to help one another survive and prosper.
In other words, in areas with high social cohesion, people tend to look after their neighbors' well-being better.
We are pleased to see over the last eight years, social participation rate among the elderly has actually improved, from 11 to 20 percent. This is roughly on par with the figures in the mainland and Taiwan, yet we still lag behind Europe. Consequently, what can our government and NGOs do to further enhance this?
Constructing more neighborhood elderly centers has proven instrumental in maintaining and improving the overall well-being of our senior residents.
In areas with more of these centers, the rate of depression among the elderly population is much lower.
I am pleased to see the government release last week a list of 55 elderly activity centers, as part of the HK$20 billion funding plan to buy properties for welfare facilities.
The next question will be how it can make sure every district's need for such centers can be equally met.
In fact, many problems confronting our old people have arisen from a lack of income that restricts the poor from receiving the necessary health care.
Therefore, the administration should take radical and immediate actions to address the worsening poverty among the elderly by reforming taxation and possibly even introducing a form of universal pension.
This issue gets overlooked because most young and middle aged population, rich and poor, are healthy.
It's when they enter their twilight years - when chronic and acute physical and mental illnesses strike - that a family's economic situation would vastly affect their health outcomes and limit their chances for longer, healthier lives.
Aging is inevitable, so are the problems that come with it but with both short and long-term measures, from improving elderly communal facilities to comprehensive retirement planning, our elderly could live long and healthy without financial burden.
The article was published on The Standard on June 12, 2019.