restricted access Chapter 7: Growing Old in Singapore: Social Constructions of Old Age and the Landscapes of the Elderly
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126 7 Growing Old in Singapore: Social Constructions of Old Age and the Landscapes of the Elderly Noorashikin Abdul Rahman Introduction Population ageing is a demographic phenomenon that most governments are concerned about and find challenging. This phenomenon has always been cast in a catastrophic light by policymakers and the media who draw attention to its possible social costs and detrimental effects to the economy. Currently, 9 per cent of the resident population in Singapore are 65 years or older. This figure is projected to hit a significant 20 per cent by 2030. By international benchmark, Singapore became an ageing society in 2005 when the population of its residents who are 65 years or older accounted for more than 8 per cent of its total resident population (Gavrilov and Heuveline cited in Teo et al. 2006). This chapter analyses the larger social context that impacts upon how old age is perceived and understood in Singapore. Specifically, by scrutinising the landscapes of care and landscapes of employment pertaining to the elderly, this chapter examines the different processes that influence social attitudes towards old age. Negative stereotypes underpinning state policies towards the elderly in Singapore affect their experiences as well as the resources and opportunities available to them. 07 C-Landscapes.indd 126 7/30/13 10:34:26 AM Growing Old in Singapore 127 The chapter is organised into four sections: first, the theoretical perspectives related to ageing will be outlined. The next section examines the key demographic profile and socio-economic circumstances of the elderly population in Singapore. Following that will be a critical discussion of the state policies related to eldercare and employment, which in turn impact the landscapes they inhabit. This discussion examines how old age is perceived within the Singaporean society which in turn shapes everyday experiences of the elderly. The conclusion will summarise the key arguments of the chapter as well as reflect on the future development of policies relating to the elderly and their landscapes in Singapore. Social Construction of Age and Ageism The issues of ageing and old age have long captured the imagination of social scientists. Increasingly, there is a shift away from seeing ageing simply as a biomedical or scientific phenomenon to understand how it is socially constructed instead. Such a constructivist viewpoint is useful for highlighting that the process of ageing differs across cultures and societies because distinct social-cultural processes shape the way ageing is perceived (Hooyman et al. 2008). In other words, the quintessential qualities and identities associated with various age groups are not objective but are socially produced (Maier 2006). These age-related norms and imaginaries within any given setting in turn have profound implications on individuals’ experience as they age (Bengston et al. 2005). Such “culturally prescribed sets of norms about people and their behavior at different stages in their life course” has been termed as ageism (Pain et al. 2000: 378). Ageism underpins assumptions on the relation between age and one’s abilities and the need for protection. It dictates the actions of organisations and how people behave and relate to one another (Bytheway 2005). Ageism tends to generalise the characteristics of people in particular life stages by marking out categories of people based on chronological age (ibid.). The inevitable outcomes of ageism is the systematic denial of resources and opportunities for people of certain chronological ages and/or the allocation of resources for services and benefits that people are assumed to need based on their chronological age. Life course refers to the different stages in life that individuals undergo. These stages entail culturally defined roles such as “child”, “youth”, “adult” and “senior”, but which are oftentimes socially fluid in that they vary across cultures and time. 07 C-Landscapes.indd 127 7/30/13 10:34:26 AM Noorashikin Abdul Rahman 128 Geographers interested in elderly issues argue that “connotations of being old with inflexibility, dependence and decline remain deeply ingrained in how people speak about and respond to encounters with older adults” (Schwanen 2012: 1292). As such, geographers have been especially keen to question and expose the way that ageism creates socio-spatial inequalities in and through various spaces, resulting in the marginalisation of the elderly population (Laws 1995a, 1995b, 1997; Pain et al. 2000). In the words of Laws (1997: 91), “the material spaces and places which we live, work, engage in leisure activities are age-graded and, in turn, age is associated with particular places and space. Our metaphorical position also varies...


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