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Hong Kong is well known international city whose dwellers generally enjoy a good quality of life. However, a big part of the people who gave their life to let the city grow and become an international city is living a bad life, with no money to support their lives as well as tier family members (Chou & Chow, 2001). This easy will highlight some of the problems faced by the elderly in Hong Kong as well as the measures that should be put in place to help these people.
One of the biggest challenges to the elderly people in Hong Kong is that they do not have enough money to support their daily lives. The population of Hong Kong is increasing at an alarming rate due to low fertility rates and increasing life expectancy (Schulz, 2008). The number of elderly people in Hong Kong who are over the age of 65 is expected to grow to 2.1 million in the year 2031. This presents a serious challenge to the government and policy makers with respect to social, political, and economic issues in Hong Kong. One of the biggest challenges pertains how to maintain or improve the economic well-being of the aging population, while at the same time addressing the issue of economic inequality.
The elderly population is one of the largest groups in Hong Kong (La Grange & Lock, 2002). Statistics show that in 2004, 18% of adults over 60 years were getting government support, whereas only 7% of the nonelderly were on government support initiative. In 2002, about 70% of the elderly population was on government welfare. This shows that this group was the poorest among the poor aged population (Lee & Law, 2004).
According to Lau, (2003), the general Hong Kong population considers poverty as well as income disparity as a social problem across all the age groups and expect that the issue will persist in the coming years. In addition, the citizens also believe that economic inequality is brought about by free market economy. Studies conducted in the last decade indicate that real household income for the elderly increased by about 25% (Lee & Law, 2004). However, although the income of the nonelderly headed households continued to increase in the same period, the income of the elderly households dropped slightly compared to the previous years. One of the reasons may be that the economic meltdown of 2008 has had a detrimental effect on the elderly population compared to the younger population. It is also worth to note that the Asian financial crisis of 1997 significantly affected the Hong Kong’s economy (Crown, 2001). The economy, at that time, declined sharply from the double digit experienced before the start of the Asian financial crisis to only a few points in the following years. In addition, the unemployment rates have continued to rise steadily over the years. Since one of the sources of income for the elderly population is the family, lack of employment for the same family creates a big dilemma for the elderly population (La Grange & Lock, 2002).
According to research findings, it is clear that income inequality is greater for the elderly people in Hong Kong compared to the nonelderly population. Although some studies show that the economic status of the elderly people has improved in compared to the way it was in the 1980s years, their income inequality has been substantially high in the last two decades. It is therefore crucial to adapt a raft of measure targeted at the aged population since income inequality in the elderly population in Hong Kong will not subside even if the economy recovers from the recent economic meltdown. However, because the country is facing fiscal deficits, it is not likely that the government will allocate more funds to support the elderly in the immediate future (Lee & Law, 2004).
Increasing the retirement age is one of the most feasible approaches of solving the problem of income inequality in the aged population (Chou &Chow, 2005). This is because personal income of older persons is slightly lower than people who are still in active employment. Hong Kong does not have a mandatory retirement age for the general populace. In addition, familiarization of retirement planning should be launched with partnership between the public and the private sector. This will make it appealing to the targeted group and help them to plan well fro their retirement (Crown, 2001).
Due to the income disparity among the elderly and the young generation, the old people are being forced to “revive, shift, and modify their health-seeking behavior to adapt to rapid social changes” (Hill, 2009, P. 12).Traditional belief in the Confucian ideology has brought about many challenges to the Hong Kong residents. The government provides a lame excuse of why it cannot meet the needs of the elderly by claiming that they ought to be taken care of by their families, and in particular, by their children. However, the children do not subscribe to the Confucius ideology and they in most cases, do not assume the delicate responsibility of taking acre of their aged parents. This, in essence, puts the elderly between two conflicting systems of values. Therefore, the elderly are forced to seek a variety of health-seeking behavioral responses, which include a revision of their beliefs regarding the ethics advanced by Confucius (Bauld et al, 2000). The elderly, in most cases, are the targets of much of the Confucius ideology inherent in Hong Kong. Confucius ideology propagated an undying duty for the children to take care of their aging parents. Failure to meet this obligation made loss of ones standing in society, inheritance, and even death inflicted by ancestors. However, many of these features, which are most prevalent in rural areas, are missing in present-day Hong Kong. Thus, filial piety has continued to erode, especially due to lack of jobs and heavy financial burden on the working young people. In essence, the elderly Hong Kong people are morally responsible to seek health, and therefore, need to delink themselves from traditional Confucius theory of filial support (Baumgarten et al, 2002).
The current generation of elderly people in Hong Kong has to shift the idea of entitlement to family support to that of not wanting to be a burden (Bauld et al, 2000). This is in contradiction to Confucius view of earlier time. In reality, many of the elderly have come to accept this trend and are fostering social friendships. In other cases, the elderly men and women in Hong Kong have displayed several health-seeking behaviors. These include visiting herbalists, traditional medical healers, and eating special foods. These are contrary to the social reality of diminishing support from family, isolation, and suicide. Indeed, it is a challenge for one to be pushed to change attitude at such an old age and embrace a new ideology (Hill, 2009).
Another problem facing the elderly population in Hong Kong is suicide (Baumgarten et al, 2002). It is believed that Hong Kong has the highest elderly suicide rates as each year a disproportionate number of suicide cases are committed by the elderly people. There are numerous suicide prevention programs in the country, but have very little effect on the elderly as they rarely utilizes them (Lam, 2007). The relative economic position of the aged populace in Hong Kong has had an adverse effect in destroying the social status that the elderly people enjoyed previously. As discussed above, one of the major sources of economic support for the elderly is the family. However, studies show that the family set up in Hong Kong has experienced a tremendous change over the years. These changes include the diminishing size of households and an increasing desire of the young married couples to live far away from their parents. In addition, the increasing levels of unemployment rates have made the nonelderly population be not in a position to provide support for the aged population.
Suicide is a complicated phenomenon (Rose, 2002). It is brought about by several reasons, including emotional, economic, psychological, social, and situational factors. Extended or prolonged sickness, death of a loved one, problems in the family, depression, and lack of hope are some of the problems associated with elderly suicides. Research findings show that suicide notes indicate that elderly people see suicide as a way of escape from “meaningless life,” or as a way of easing pain. Their motive is mainly to end their lives. The suicide rates have been shown to increase with age, with a remarkable increase for those people aged 70 and above. In Hong Kong, suicide rates have continued to increase every year (Chi, 2007).
There are several measures that should be taken to minimize the suicide rates. First, people who provide care for the elderly must pay more attention to the mental state of the aged people and especially those who tend to lack social support. Concerning socio-economic status, research findings show that the “ratio of economically inactive elderly persons and active ones is 10: 1” (Chi, 2007). This is because an elderly person will see an economic activity as an active lifestyle which is important in enhancing their psychological well-being (Schulz, 2008).
Another solution in minimizing suicide tendencies is the provision of adequate support neighborhoods. It well understood that suburb areas in Hong Kong lack community support services for the elderly (Rose, 2002). In addition, elderly people were displaced from their old neighborhoods to give way for the new suburbs. This resulted to breakdown of support networks in these places. The loss of a supportive environment can lead to depression, which also leads to suicidal tendencies. In addition, community support services for the elderly should be enhanced as they play a pivotal role in integrating people into new environments and can help prevent suicidal tendencies (Baumgarten et al, 2002).
In conclusion, Hong Kong, as a modern and growing city, has brought numerous challenges to the elderly citizens. Income inequality continues to increase, bringing unbearable suffering to majority of the elderly in Hong Kong. It is such economic hardships which bring stress, depression, and lack of hope, which lead these people to the brink of taking their life. To overcome this challenge, the government should increase the retirement age. This will increase personal income of the older generation (Ory & Bond, 2006). Educational support programs must also be pursued to educate people before they go into retirement. As discussed above, there is a greater shift from Confucius ideology to the realities of the day. No longer is the young generation able to take care of the aging population. This is due to financial burdens as well as lack of meaningful employment. Proper education will help shift people’s mindset from this ideology and open their minds to other social support programs. Lastly, suicide is also a big problem brought about by difficult life that the elderly encounter. In order to minimize this menace, the government must ensure adequate support for the elderly.
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