Singapore topped the world in life expectancy in 2017 with an expected lifespan at birth of 84.8 years, surging ahead of even Japan by more than half a year. The average Singaporean also enjoys the longest span of living in good health - 74.2 years. But there has also been a rise in the number of unhealthy years that people here live. According to a report by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in the United States, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the long life expectancy comes with the ominous expectation that 10.6 of those years would be spent in poor health. What a long life gives with one hand can be taken away by age-related health issues with the other. Japan's experiences can be instructive.
A shrinking population there has been accompanied by a move away from a demographic pyramid where many young people support fewer older people, to an apple-shaped demography with a large number of middle-aged people. In several decades, this profile will become top-heavy, with many older people being supported by relatively fewer younger adults, a prospect compounded by even fewer young people being in the demographic pipeline. In the circumstances, the challenge for an ageing society would be to reduce the population's disability years by helping the elderly to stay healthy and live independently for as long as they can. In Japan, as in Singapore, an ageing society is a challenge but not a burden.