More older Singaporeans meeting daily expenses

Study shows number of such seniors rose 10 percentage points from 2009 to 2017

The proportion of older Singaporeans who could meet their monthly household expenses and have some money left over increased by about half to 30 per cent from 2009 to 2017, a local study has found.

But there were also slightly more people aged 60 and older who had difficulty in meeting these expenses.

The ongoing survey of more than 4,500 Singaporeans and permanent residents is being conducted by Duke-NUS Medical School's Centre for Ageing Research and Education and the Ministry of Health.

Called the Transitions in Health, Employment, Social Engagement and Inter-generational Transfers in Singapore Study, it also looks at respondents' physical health and healthcare utilisation, psychological well-being, social networks, social participation, intergenerational transfers within the family, volunteerism, lifelong learning, work and retirement.

In 2017, 29.5 per cent of adults aged 60 and above reported that they thought they had adequate income to meet their monthly household expenses, while still having some money left over, up from 19.5 per cent in 2009.

This was due to the sharp rise among men - the proportion increased from 9.4 per cent in 2009 to 39.8 per cent in 2017 - while the proportion of women declined from 28.1 per cent to 20.4 per cent, possibly because they left the labour force to become caregivers, said researchers.

Another factor was higher education level.

"There are more older Singaporeans with a higher education background and who have also remained in the workforce. So this could have contributed to the increase in this proportion," said Dr Rahul Malhotra, the centre's head of research. "Higher education could mean higher income and remaining longer in the workforce as well," he added.

At the same time, however, a higher proportion of older residents also reported having some or much difficulty in meeting monthly household expenses.

Some 14.6 per cent of respondents had some difficulty meeting expenses in 2017, a slight increase from 13.8 per cent in 2009. And 3.8 per cent of them had much difficulty in doing so in 2017, up from 2.4 per cent in 2009.

Researchers said that there may be several factors that accounted for the increase in financial inadequacy.

These included an increase in the general cost of living and a rise in healthcare expenses among the oldest - the 80 years and above group, which had the highest proportion of income inadequacy.

"The introduction by the Singapore Government of healthcare-related cost mitigation initiatives for the Pioneer Generation and, more recently, the Merdeka Generation, might assist but their downstream benefits and changes in the financial burden of healthcare costs need to be studied in further detail," said Dr Malhotra.

The findings on income adequacy suggest that income disparities may be increasing among older residents, said researchers.

There are several caveats to the study findings.

They are based on perceived income adequacy as researchers did not measure respondents' consumption or expenditure and have not analysed income adequacy as the dependent variable.

In addition, the proportion of people who did not respond to the question of income inadequacy in 2009 was double that in 2017 - 6.2 per cent (2009) compared with 2.9 per cent (2017).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2019, with the headline 'More older S'poreans meeting daily expenses'. Print Edition | Subscribe