FOR those who study demography, the term “pyramid population” strikes a familiar chord. It is used to explain the age structure of a society.
The pyramid, which has a wide base and narrow top that vanishes into a point, is an indication that the age structure of a population is predominantly youthful and only a small proportion is elderly. However, in today’s demographic trend, the term is hardly appropriate to describe a population structure.
According to the United Nations, the shape of the global population in 2015 looks more like a bell as there are more adults and an increasing growth of the older population in the world. Propelled by longevity and low fertility, the shape will again change by 2050. At that time, it will be referred to as a population barrel, and by then, older persons aged 60 and above will outnumber the population of children (0-14 years) for the first time in human history.
In short, the world population trend is moving towards an ageing society and Malaysia is not excluded in the process. Data from 2012 shows that there were about 2.43 million senior citizens in the country. Based on the UN projection, the figure will increase to 8.85 million or 20% of the population in 2050.
But Malaysia will achieve an ageing country status earlier than 2050. By 2030 or before the 14th Malaysia Plan, it is forecast that 15% of our population will fall within the age bracket of 60 and above.
Islam recognises ageing as a normal stage of life. For those whose lives Allah prolongs, it is a reality that they must deal with.
In verse 67 of surah al-Ghafir, Allah declares:
“He it is Who created you from dust, then from a small life germ, then from a clot, then He brings you forth as a child, then that you may attain your maturity, then that you may be old – and of you there are some who are caused to die before – and that you may reach an appointed term, and that you may understand. (Quran 40:67)”
In Western countries, such as the United States and Europe, population ageing is deemed a threat to economic stability.
For example, the European Union’s Economic Policy Committee (2010) in its assessment of the threat warned: “The ageing of the population is becoming a growing challenge to the sustainability of public finance in the EU member states.”
Indeed, the warning has its merits. As the ratio between the number of retirees and workers increases, so will expenditure on public pensions and health care. As a result, governments will face tough times to maintain a sound balance between future expenditure and tax revenues.