Number of retiree households growing fast

Number of retiree households growing fast
Above: Madam Chin Chu Eng, 81, and Mr Lee Swee Hock, 85, at their Taman Bukit Ho Swee home.

More elderly retirees are now living on their own as Singapore's population ages, a survey on household incomes last week showed. The same survey also found that middle-income households are feeling the squeeze more than ever, having experienced the smallest rise in their salaries across the country in recent years.

The Sunday Times looks at what is driving these trends and what implications they could have on government policies.

Homemaker Teo Hong Neo, 76, has two sons but lives with only her husband, Mr Lee Peng Ann, in a three-room flat in Toa Payoh.

Her children visit regularly, and Madam Teo also takes care of her grandchildren after school, until her son picks them up after work.

But for the most part, the elderly couple, who have been married for 50 years, have mainly each other for company. They will soon have even more time to spend together, after Mr Lee, a taxi driver, gives up his licence upon turning 75 this year.

That will place the couple among the growing number of retiree households here.

As Singapore's population ages, there has been a surge in the number of such households, which comprise only people aged 60 and above who do not work.

There were 84,000 retiree households last year, a jump of more than 55 per cent from 54,100 just six years ago, according to a survey on household income trends released by the Department of Statistics (DOS) last Monday.

Sociologists said this trend is not surprising, because it mirrors the country's wider pattern of an ageing population. Singapore is expected to be a "super-aged" nation by 2030, when one in five people will be 65 or older.

Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) sociologist Mathew Mathews noted that the spike in the number of retiree households comes as "more people from the baby boomer era are entering their 60s".

Indeed, the number of Singapore residents aged 60 and above grew 41.4 per cent to 663,103 as of June last year, from 469,000 six years earlier.

One reason the number of retiree households has risen faster than the overall number of elderly people may be that more younger members of the family are moving out of their parents' homes after marriage, or to live on their own, experts say.

But Dr Mathews noted that "this does not indicate that inter-generational bonds are no longer strong, since many of these retiree households may be located fairly close to where their other family members are living".

And even though they may have stopped work, many of these households are not struggling financially.

IPS research fellow Christopher Gee, who studies ageing and retirement adequacy issues, said: "Some of these retiree households may be reasonably comfortable, in terms of their independence and ability to live on their own."

According to the latest Household Expenditure Survey by the DOS released in September last year, more than 90 per cent of households with no working persons reported having at least one steady source of income.

For retirees, this could come from contributions from their families, returns on investments or help from the Government.

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