Old age catching up in Sri Lanka

By Dilshani Samaraweera

After 30 years spent on war, now old age is catching up with Sri Lanka. Economists and ILO analysts are ringing warning bells that Sri Lanka’s post-war economic growth may decelerate because of aging population.

The government has not officially acknowledged this as a national problem yet and a full national census, including the North and East (parts of which were previously not counted because of war) is due only in 2011.

However, Mrs S Vidyaratne, the Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics, the main national data collection agency, speaking at the launch of the Labour and Social Trends in Sri Lanka 2009 report, on December 08, 2009, confirmed that population projections indicate a large rise in the elderly and a reduction in working age population over the next 10 – 20 years.

The Labour and Social Trends in Sri Lanka 2009 report, is a joint report by the Department of Census and Statistics, the Central Bank, and the Ministry of Labour Relations, with assistance from the ILO.

Slowing growth
Economists say the aging population will reduce growth of the national labour force over the next 10 years, and in turn, will reduce the rate of economic growth.

“If the current trends continue into the future, and the labour force growth slows because of demographic reasons, the average GDP growth rate can drop to 3.6% between 2009 and 2020, which is a slowdown compared to the historical average of 5%,” said an economist from the Economic and Labour Market Analysis Department of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Steven Kapsos.

Over the next 10 years alone, Sri Lanka’s working age population is expected to stagnate .

Between 2009 to 2020, the child population ( 0-14 years) is projected to grow by around 100,000 (2%), the youth population (15 – 24 years) is projected to shrink by 300,000, the working age population (25- 54 years) will increase only very slightly, while the over 55 years population is projected to increase by 1.7 million (45%).

Working the problem
However, Sri Lanka can increase the labour force by allowing more women to work and can also increase economic growth by shifting to higher value added areas.

The ILO noted that infrastructure development is vital for this.

ILO economists also said focusing on agriculture – to improve its productivity – is also a good start because large sections of Sri Lanka’s rural population are agrculture dependent for incomes and also food.

“Infrastructure development will be essential for productivity improvement. Boosting subcultural productivity is also very important for growth and to reduce poverty,” said Mr Kapsos.

Lanka news, 12 Dec. 2009

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