OLD BUT GOLD

Oman 2019 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: SILVER ECONOMY

Still a young nation, Oman will have to deal with its aging population and changing demographics in the coming years.

Oman's economy has been faring well in recent years, and its per capita income has undergone a six-fold growth between 1980 and 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Better economic conditions have resulted in the average life expectancy leaping from 60 years in 1980 to over 77 in 2015, and it is expected to exceed 85 years by 2050. According to the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD), this means that the average age in Oman was over 40 in 2015, whereas it was approximately 20 at the turn of the millennium.

Other countries in eastern Asia and western Europe have faced the challenges of an aging population in previous decades and have dealt with this problem in different ways. For example, Japan, as an aging nation, employs smart solutions such as telehealth and Internet of Things (IoT) to empower its senior citizens, while European nations rely on controlled immigration and supportive family planning policies to bring new blood to the country. GCC nations, in general, have a history of hosting guest workers and temporary immigrants, which can be yet another solution for the problem of Oman's changing demographics in the future. Although Oman is still a relatively young nation with a steady rate of population growth, the number of elderly people is forecast to grow exponentially in the coming decades given the Sultanate's ever-improving healthcare system and living standards. As such, Omani senior citizens will need businesses to cater to their needs in areas such as healthcare, transportation, and housing—a concept usually referred to as the silver economy.

Coined in the 1970s in Japan, the phrase “silver economy" alludes to the graying hair of senior citizens. To be more precise, the silver economy is defined as an economy focused on people aged 50 and over, who are either retired or far from having an optimal performance in the workforce. An aging population is both the blessing and curse of affluent nations. Sooner or later, Oman will have a silver economy, and making the right decisions in advance can give it an edge.

From a macroeconomic perspective, an ageing population leads to a lower ratio of working people to retirees, who may overburden a country's pension system. One possible solution is to extend an individual's productive lifespan by employing the latest diagnostic technologies and treatment methods in the country's health sector, thus making senior citizens more productive members of the society.

In western nations, the workforce is now staying active until older ages and contributes to the diversity of workplaces. Age-diverse workplaces tend to be more synergic because elder team members transfer their experience to the next generation, who are more motivated and risk-taking. However, Omani law requires all men over 60 and all women over to 55 to retire, which means it needs to be revised if Omani authorities want the sultanate to have a more thriving silver economy.
Even after retirement, advancements in telehealth—distant health monitoring—in recent years will allow elderly people to live independently and stay out of hospitals and nursing homes. Recent studies suggest that elderly people who lead independent lives are better off, with a 2004 study suggesting that “an active and socially integrated lifestyle in late life can protect against dementia."

Notably, elder citizens with pension plans have a relatively high purchasing power in both developed and developing countries. People aged 55 and older own a disproportionately larger share of the society's wealth in the West, and a more or less similar trend can be observed in the GCC. This is an unmissable business opportunity for entrepreneurs in areas such as tourism, high-end healthcare, and age-appropriate entertainment. Such forms of entrepreneurship can be win-win deals as they simultaneously create jobs for the younger generation and prevent the social isolation of elder citizens.