The unprecedented growth of the older population (age 60 and above), both in terms of absolute numbers and with regard to its share in the total population, is a striking feature of the Sri Lanka demographic scenario in recent times. Evidence in the South Asia regions confirms Sri Lanka has the highest proportion of older persons (60+ and 80+) and will be the most 'aged' country in South Asia from 2000 to 2050. The annual growth rate of the population over 60 years of age in Sri Lanka is increasing faster than that of its rate of growth of total population, and demographic projections clearly indicate an acceleration of the index of aging. Sri Lanka experienced an increasing trend of older population since the 1950s, primarily due to substantial fertility decline, and secondarily to a spectacular decline in mortality at all ages, and pronounced gain in longevity that commenced in the early 1950s. The share of older population has increased from 5.4 per cent in 1946 to 12.2 percent in 2012 and as projected, it would be more than double, reaching 21.9 per cent in 2031 and 27.4 per cent in 2050.
Traditionally, societal values in Sri Lanka have stressed filial responsibility in the care of aging parents and relatives. However, there is considerable evidence to show that the economic and social support and care of the older persons are weakened in Sri Lanka due to the erosion of traditional home based family care, changing family system and changing life style by engaging activity pattern of youths. There is an increasing demand for institutional support by the older persons.
This presentation discuses some of the underlying reasons that have prompted the elderly to make the decision to move out of the family kinship network and seek institutional support. The family and society consider that older persons are not always a liability but are an asset. Therefore, new policy options and necessary remedies will be needed to overcome the confronting issues facing older people and for them to be a productive and healthier group in future in the Sri Lankan society.
Dr KA Padmasiri Siddhisena is Professor of Demography, University of Colombo. He is one of the pioneers in the field of Demography in Sri Lanka. He was the Founder Head of the Department of Demography of the University of Colombo. In addition to his academic position, he served as the Director of the Demographic Training and Research Unit (DTRU), the Director of Colombo University Community Extension Centre (CUCEC), Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts. He holds BA (Hons) and BPhil (Hons) in Economics from University of Colombo, MA in Demography from Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, and M.SC and PhD in Population Planning from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He served as the Founder Secretary and the President of the Population Association of Sri Lanka (PASL), and the editor of Sri Lanka Journal of Population Studies (SLJPS). His teaching and research spread over a broad range of topics, including fertility and mortality analysis, Migration and Urbanization, and Population and Development issues. He served as UNFPA and UNDP Consultant to improve the census data in Bangladesh and Timor Leste He authored several articles published in local and international journals including Locational specificities of fertility transition in Sri Lanka (Co-author-Geo-Journal), Sri Lankans of Great Britain: Migration and Settlement (Co-author, APMJ), Socio-economic Implications of Ageing in Sri Lanka (Oxford Institute of Ageing, Oxford University, London), A pace of Its Own: The Demography of Ageing in Sri Lanka (Journal of Population Ageing, London; 2011) and Analytical Report on Migration and Urbanization (Vol 7; Timor-Leste Population and Housing Census). Dr Siddhisena also served as Visiting Professor at the University of Sheffield, UK, University of Ryukoku, Kyoto Japan, University of Oxford, UK, Visiting Senior Fellow of the Royal Society, London, ESCAP and UNFPA in Bangkok. He rendered his expertise in the formulation of National Policy on Population and Reproductive Health in Sri Lanka in 1998.