While many countries in the Pacific region fear tsunamis, the island nation of Singapore fears a different type of tsunami: the silver tsunami. The term refers to the rapidly increasing population of senior citizens, which is expected to increase from 8.7 percent of the population to nearly 20 percent by 2030. By 2030, it is predicted that every 1 in 5 Singaporeans will be above the age of 65. In a nation already experiencing a slowing fertility rate, such a rapid increase in the elderly population threatens to place great pressure on the social services to which Singaporean citizens are entitled. The increasing elderly population brings urgency to certain topics, such as immigrant employment, that will need to be addressed more quickly in the coming decade.

The global economic downturn has exacerbated the effects of such a rapidly aging demographic. The population pyramid of Singapore is changing such that a much larger elderly population will have to be supported by a much smaller workforce. During the economic downturn, as greater pressures were exerted on the workforce, this dependence of the elderly on the workforce became a concern. In response, the Singaporean government has had to both design new interventions to provide security to this population, as well as bolster existing social security schemes. An existing tenet of the Singaporean welfare system is the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Established in 1955, the CPF provides citizens and permanent residents returns on their savings, and further allocates workers’ savings towards areas such as medical costs and retirement. In a nation awash with shopping malls, the CPF enforces saving among Singaporean citizens. In addition to CPF, a more recent scheme developed has been the ElderShield Program. By providing a monthly payment towards care, ElderShield provides financial security for the elderly as well as the disabled who may incur costs for necessary long-term care.

Yet, as people live longer and the composition of the population shifts, there will also be an increasing number of people requiring long-term care. Not only will this place pressure on the aforementioned financial security programs, but it will also challenge the fundamental values on which Singaporean society operates. As a modern society rooted in traditional Asian values, Singapore generally places the responsibility of caring for elders in the hands of their family members. However, the silver tsunami threatens to raze this system. In a traditional household, the wife would typically stay at home to take care of the children as well as aging parents. However, in this modern day, highly urbanized society, there are more and more families in which both the husband and wife work full time. The nuclear family is changing, and it no longer permits the devotion of time and service to extended family members.

At the same time, Singapore is experiencing a strain on its long-term care facilities. This is due to both the cultural unacceptability of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, as well as the government’s emphasis on deinstitutionalization. Hand in hand, these two forces have powered the growth of community-based organizations that provide support for home care and that supply day-to-day care services to the elderly. These volunteer welfare organizations (VWOs) generally function on a community-to-community basis, and still remain largely independent. However, the government, through new organizations like the agency for Integrated Care, is putting forth new efforts to support VWOs by providing advice and funding. there remains room for a larger umbrella organization that would help to coordinate the activities and goals of these community organizations and help citizens access the resources most fitted to their needs.

Resources in Singapore are limited, and the nation is used to importing nearly everything that it needs. From dairy products to cars, these imports have now grown to encompass the most crucial resource as well: people. the rise in the elderly population has necessitated an increase in the import of foreign workers to fill roles in nursing homes, in hospitals, as well as in homes. due to its extremely high cost of daily living, Singapore cannot inspire local citizens to enter these fields, as they are not lucrative enough. More importantly, the low wages accepted by immigrant workers outcompete the wages required by local workers. This reliance on foreign workers places great strain on Singaporean society as land becomes more limited. Singapore has had to place extremely tight restrictions on immigration, in order to maintain a sustainable population density. Foreign workers are typically not permitted to have children in Singapore, and must return to their native nations in order to do so.

Although foreign workers are fast becoming an integral component of Singaporean society, that is not to say that Singaporean culture will accept them readily. there is hostility towards foreign workers, although the government has placed many rules in order to ensure their fair treatment. However, the influx of foreign workers highlights an inherent paradox of Singapore: that the very high quality of life that the nation prizes may in fact hinder the growth of local jobs. It is a conundrum that Singapore, both as a government and people, will have to address. that is not to say that it is the only nation that will have to face these concerns as its population ages. Nearby nations such as Japan and Korea, as well as Scandinavian nations, such as Sweden and Denmark, are also in line to experience an aging demographic. This shift in population will be something that the world has not yet experienced, and will require innovative solutions in order to preserve the world for the next generation. The Silver tsunami will strike many shores.