PETALING JAYA: Better awareness about life choices and early preparation for old age can promote healthier well-being for single people, say experts.
Universiti Putra Malaysia's Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) deputy director Assoc Prof Dr Rahimah Ibrahim said relationships and support were vital to a person's quality of life, especially as they grow older.
"Health-wise, older women and men who never married are at an increased likelihood of the adverse outcomes of cardiovascular disease, dementia risks and death from all causes compared with their married counterparts,” she said, citing various research papers including one on “Marriage and risk of dementia” published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry .
This effect, she said, was also experienced by those who became single through divorce or widowhood.
Rahimah also said intimate relationships and the support of a partner are a protective factor against stressful life events.
"Without interventions that promote social engagement and building social relationships, this segment of the population may be exposed to the risk of loneliness and lower well-being later in life," she said.
She added that single people might face the multiple jeopardy of becoming sick and poor and lacking care, while single women – whether by choice or due to life events such as divorce or widowhood – might also face social stereotyping.
Rahimah said that despite women having contributed to families and society through work or taking care of other family members, their welfare would heavily depend on individual social security plans.
She added that delaying childbearing also came with micro and macro implications, such as a lower fertility rate, a higher risk of a congenital disability and a significant generation gap between parents and children.
"In the family context, inter-generational communication and relationships may have issues because of the considerable generation gap.
"With singlehood and childlessness, there may also be an increase in people living alone and social marginalisation," she noted.
To address this situation, Rahimah said there must be awareness conducted about life choices and potential trajectories in early preparation and investment for old age.
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"There should also be protection against fraud or scams from people who take advantage of single older women.
"Long-term care options should be built into social security programmes so these women do not have to end up in institutional care or live poorly," she emphasised.
Universiti Sains Malaysia Centre for Research on Women and Gender (Kanita) member Prof Dr Noraida Endut said there should be better policies and social security on ageing for both married and single women.
"Even for people who have children, they can no longer expect their children to look after them as the latter may not have the means to do so.
"Some single people may be better prepared as they know they will stay single and may have made plans for their social security," she said.
She added that policy and healthcare for the country's ageing population must take into account the gender perspective.
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