Population aging is an increasing median age in the population due to declining fertility rates and rising life expectancy. The UN ranks a country as ageing if seven percent of its population is over 65, while a “super-aged” country has over 20 percent of its citizens above that threshold. If in 1960 only 5% of world population was 65 years or older, in 2015 around 9% of the world population is aged 65 and above. This demonstrates that world on the whole is aging, but some countries such as Japan and Germany are aging even more.
The issue of an aging population could significantly undermine living standards enjoyed by different countries. First of all, an aging population is harmful for economic growth due to the decline in labor participation. Healthcare costs are also rising in aging countries. Therefore, countries with rapidly aging populations must allocate more money and resources to their health care systems.
Countries with large elderly populations also depend on smaller pools of workers from which to collect taxes to pay for higher health costs, pension benefits and other publicly funded programs. Therefore, there is much pressure on younger people in aging countries.
Population ageing is set to become one of the most momentous social alterations in the age of humankind and in this light, it is interesting to see what Europe thinks about living conditions of the elderly people in their country.
The European Values Study (EVS), a large multinational survey research program that has been studying basic human values for almost 40 years, has asked several questions regarding attitudes towards elderly people. GORBI has been part of the project since 2008 and is the data provider for Georgia and Azerbaijan for the most recent year.
In all countries surveyed except for Russia, concern for living conditions of elderly people has drastically increased.
Graph 1. People that are concerned about the living conditions of elderly people in their country (%)
Source:European Value Study, 2008-2018
As we can see from Graph 1, all 16 countries that were surveyed by the European Value Studies in 2017 are aging countries, with more than 7 % of their total population being 65 and over. Questions regarding the living conditions of the elderly have been asked both in 2008 and 2017. Everywhere but Russia the concern for elderly people has increased. In Austria, the percentage of the population concerned about the living conditions of elderly has increased by 37%, while in Spain this number has increased by 24% percent.
In 2008, Georgia was the country most worried about the living conditions of the elderly, and this trend continues in 2017 as well. It is interesting that males and females, as well as people from different age groups are similarly concerned about this issue in Georgia. Looking at Graph 1 we see that Georgia is not the most aging country among those surveyed, nevertheless out of the surveyed countries Georgia is the most concerned for the aged, so it is interesting look for the reasons behind such attitudes.
HelpAge International is an international NGO that helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination, and overcome poverty so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Global HelpAge ranks 96 countries according to the social and economic wellbeing of older people. Georgia was among the countries measured and was found to rank moderately in the income security domain due to a relatively high old age poverty rate (19%) compared to other countries (regional average is 11.7%) and low GNI per capita at US$ 6,137 - the second lowest in the region. In addition, Georgia ranks lowest in the health domain, with above regional average life expectancy at 60 but under the healthy life expectancy at 60 and the psychological wellbeing rate (82%). Most importantly, Georgia has the lowest social connectedness (43%) in the region. In my opinion, the lack of social connectedness among the elderly is very important, yet not surprising in Georgia. We do not see many elderly people in cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, and other entertainment places in our daily lives.
I recall a lecture at Skidmore College in New York where my sociology professor was explaining ageism. She pointed out that compared to the U.S, where it is socially acceptable for elderly people to hold hands in public, dress up and walk in the streets freely, for some countries this is not socially acceptable. I immediately thought of Georgia. Even though elderly people in Georgia are quite capable, there is a social stigma associated with their age. I’ve heard many times people in Georgia referring to older lady who has makeup on as “Fufala” and surprised gazes from people if they see older couple walking in the street holding hands. The fact that HelpAge demonstrated that Georgia has the lowest social connectedness in the region, is well demonstrated in our daily experience where we don’t see many elderly people in public places. It’s almost like an elderly person in Georgia does not have right to live his/her life to the fullest.
Financial conditions are also quite difficult for elderly Georgians. Many of them rely solely on their monthly pensions, which amount to 200 GEL. Indeed it is quite hard to live on 200 GEL when older age is linked with much higher health expenses. In addition, unlike the U.S for example, where there are plethora of homes for senior citizens, there are only two publicly owned residences for senior citizens in Georgia in Tbilisi andKutaisi. Despite the unpopularity of so called “elderly shelters”, Tbilisi’s home for senior citizens is completely filled and new admissions are suspended, with many elderly ones still hopelessly waiting in lines. Due to the lack of spaces receiving beneficiaries is also problematic in paid “shelters”. It is not surprising that such residential centers are not popular in Georgia. EVS asked a question if people agreed with the following statement “Adult children have the duty to provide long-term care for their parents” and 92% of Georgians agreed with it, compared to the Netherlands, where only 24% of population agreed with this statement. These statistics make Georgia the firmest believer that children have a duty to provide long-term care for their parents among 16 countries surveyed by the EVS and is likely the underlying reason behind the unpopularity of elderly homes in Georgia, since it is not popular to admit your parents to an elderly home. Nevertheless, there are older people who do not have children or grandchildren, or any relatives whatsoever.
So while the world is getting old, Georgia is getting even older, and according to UN projections by 2050 the percentage of the population 60 years and older will exceed 29% in Georgia. This means that we need to concentrate much more on the wellbeing of our elderly population, where currently they lack financial security, social bonds and face social stigmas associated with their age. The ruling party needs to pay even more attention to this age group, since elderly people are their main supporters. I have been observing some positive efforts lately, such as a project pairing up elderly people in need with host families, however we need to put more effort into the financial and social well-being of elderly people in our country.
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)