Wetenschap - 7 november 2002

Old-age security in Indonesia in danger of being lost

Old-age security in Indonesia in danger of being lost

The Indonesian population is ageing rapidly. Although the proportion of old people is still low at the moment, by 2025 it will have increased by nearly 200 percent. To make matters worse, those who reach old age around then are unlikely to have any care arrangements, as the traditional role of children caring for their elderly parents is already beginning to disappear.

Iris Keasberry examined the care of the elderly in rural Yogyakarta on Java in Indonesia. The only people who receive an old age pension, and a meagre one at that, are retired civil servants and military personnel. Even well-educated people such as professors have to keep working after retirement to make ends meet. In the villages where Keasberry did fieldwork the elderly often continue working to support themselves until they die. Many are active on the family farm and gradually work less until they are no longer capable of physical work. Other family members, up to three generations, then take over the work.

There are different ways in which people can ensure that they will receive support or help as they get older. Keasberry investigated which strategies gave people a feeling of security as they near old age. Most important turned out to be the relationship with their children. Old people with an adult child living at home, who is capable of caring for them, feel most secure about the future. Contact with children no longer living at home also makes the elderly feel safe. Care by children is far more important to the elderly than financial or material help. Contrary to expectations, money or goods hardly contribute to a feeling of security about care in old age.

Keasberry's findings led her to issue a warning about the future. At present most old people still live in a three-generation family, with many children and grandchildren. This gives a guarantee of care for the elderly. But most young adults are now having fewer children, and these children receive more education, which means that an increasing number leave the countryside and their parental home to work and live elsewhere. These changes in Indonesian society, together with the economic crisis and political unrest, provide a sombre outlook for the elderly in the future.

Iris Keasberry will defend her PhD thesis 'Elder Care, Old-Age Security and Social Change in Rural Yogyakarta, Indonesia' on Friday 15 November at Wageningen University. Her supervisor is Professor Anke Niehof (Sociology of Consumers and Households).

Joris Tielens

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