Malaysia’s 50 shades of grey problem

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 22 Jan 2020

With no modern economic development plans, a small town like Mambang Diawan in Kampar is becoming an elderly folk's village as youths leave for bigger cities.

PETALING JAYA: Penang, the second top greying state in the country, will overtake Perak in 20 years to become Malaysia's "oldest" state.

Figures from the Statistics Department show that Perak is currently the state with the largest proportion of people aged 60 and above (15.3%), followed by Penang (14.9%), Melaka (13.9%), Perlis (13.1%) and Kedah (12.8%).

By 2040, however, Penang will be in first place at 26.2% followed by Kuala Lumpur (24.5%) and Selangor (22.4%).

Commenting on the figures, ageing researcher Chai Sen Tyng said birth and death rates as well as the outward migration of younger segments of the population are factors that affect population ageing.

He said states must create enough jobs that meet the various skills and academic qualifications of its people to prevent the youth from migrating abroad or to other states.

“The lack of skilled jobs is driving the working age population away from these states,” said Chai, who is with the Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Malaysia officially becomes an ageing country this year with the percentage of its population aged 65 and above hitting 7.5%.

The Statistics Department data also forecasts that Malaysia will be classified an aged country in 2040, which is when 65-year olds and above make up 14% of the population.

Chai explained that a drop in the percentage of a state's working age population due to migration will lead to a higher ratio of seniors, leading to fewer workers to drive the local economy.

For Penang, outward inter-state migration as well as international migration and low fertility rates, particularly among its Chinese population, are contributing to population ageing.

“Because of this, states like Perak and Penang need to start creating more specialised jobs and upscale its economy to become less labour intensive, and to cater to the learned young generation.”

The department's figures show that ethnic Chinese currently make up 39.2% of the state's 1.8 million population.

Bumiputra meanwhile comprise 42.5%, Indians make up 9.6% while Malaysians classified as "Others" constitute 0.34%.

Non-Malaysians make up the remaining 8.36%.

Chai said Penang's approach of attracting investors to build factories in the state in order to create jobs has had mixed results.

“It worked for a while but did not stop the outward migration of the educated population.”

Most of the high-skilled jobs that were created in the state, such as in engineering, catered only to the requirements of industrial activities such as for semiconductor companies, he added.

“There are not many opportunities for the average graduate.

“Young people may come to states like Penang to pursue their tertiary education but they will then leave to find job opportunities elsewhere."

On Perak, Chai said longer lifespans and the state's appeal as haven for retirees were not the factors causing the state's ageing population.

“Perak used to be the largest and richest state in the country before independence.

“However, it had the highest outward net migration since 1980s to 1990s, when young people sought better job opportunities in Kuala Lumpur and later, Selangor.

“The trend has led to the state bleeding out its younger population, hence naturally increasing the percentage of old people."

Assuming that current migration patterns hold, Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are expected to be the “oldest” states or federal territory in the next 20 to 30 years.

Chai said this was due to declining birth rates and a continually ageing population.

Every state, he said, has to take into account their history and local needs to identify the best approach in attracting youths to work in their state.

“Districts have different patterns of demographic and development.

“Towns like Kuala Kangsar and Taiping offer limited career prospects for locals. Even the factories there have mostly employed Vietnamese and Bangladeshis for the past 20 to 40 years,” he said.

The researcher said the federal and state governments need to create new niche industries that can offer enough skilled jobs.

He cited an example of the development of the animation and creative industry picked up by Cyberjaya, after an initial plan of creating a global animation centre in Kuala Terengganu in 2007 under the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) did not materialise.

“It was not a coincidence that we have increasing expertise in animation, allowing locals to create animated films and TV shows such as Ejen Ali and Upin dan Ipin.”

“It may not be a huge industry for the country but it provides a high-income and much needed technical expertise industry for our graduates,” he said.

Bringing in foreign workers may be a policy option to boost economic development, Chai emphasised that it may not be in the best interest of the people.

“Ultimately the government needs to create new niche industries in places other than the Klang Valley and on top of that, align the education system with industry needs,” he said.
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