PERCEPTION OF AGING AND KNOWLEDGE OF AGING ISSUES AMONG THE NIGERIAN YOUTH: IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL POLICY.

PERCEPTION OF AGING AND KNOWLEDGE OF AGING ISSUES AMONG THE NIGERIAN YOUTH: IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL POLICY.

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ABSTRACT

The growing percentage of the elderly in the population has raised questions about societies’ ability to meet their needs and about the economic and social consequences of supporting them. In Nigeria at present, the population of the elderly (60 +) according to the 1991 census is 4% of the population. There is also little or no government support for the elderly as a group rather the care of the elderly in Nigeria is within the domain of the family. It follows therefore that family members need to be socialised into such roles so that they will automatically assume the role of caregivers at the right time. This study explored how knowledgeable the Nigerian youth are about aging issues considering that they are going to have the responsibility of taking care of the elderly in future either as family members or as policy makers. In addition the study also examined some aging stereotypes held by the Nigerian youth in order to ascertain, among other things, the way they feel about the elderly generally. The study employed the questionnaire and focus group discussions in data collection from a randomly selected sample of youths (15-30 years) in Anambra State. It covered three rural and one urban local government areas. The sample size was eight hundred (800) youths. Information that was sought from the respondents included personal characteristics, knowledge of government policy on the aged, knowledge of aging issues, age stereotypes, perception of the aged, family relationships, social support, etc. Six hypotheses were proposed and tested. The study found that the Nigerian youth do not have adequate knowledge of issues that concern the aging and that there is a very negative perception of the elderly among the youth. Findings show that a strong relationship exists between contact with the elderly and having a positive perception about them. It was also found that the youth are opposed to institutionalisation of the elderly. Majority believed that the place of the elderly is with their families. It was found that gender and place of residence, had no relationship with any of the dependent variables like “willingness to live in the same house with parents”,


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“view about leaving wife and children in the village”, “view on whether an individual can outlive his usefulness”, and “feelings about the belief that elderly people are more likely to be witches and wizards” The study found some relationship between level of education and some of the dependent variables mentioned above. Six hypotheses were tested and the following relationships were found to be significant: relationships between contact with the elderly and knowledge of aging issues, relationship between contact with the elderly and perception of the aging, education and perception of the elderly and relationship between age and perception of the elderly. No significant difference was found between gender and perception of the aging and between knowledge of aging issues and perception of the elderly. These findings have clear implications for policy and social work practice in Nigeria. A fundamental one is the need for the introduction of gerontological education and intergenerational programmes into the Nigerian school curriculum, which we hope would help influence, the attitudes of young people about aging.


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CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

1.1          Background of the Study

The economic and social consequences of recent changes in the structure of human population have become an issue of major concern around the world. In particular, the growing percentage of the elderly in the population has raised questions about societies’ ability to meet their needs and about the economic and social consequences of supporting them. The aging of a population is typically part of the process of economic development and an aspect of the demographic transition (Mullan, 2000). Population aging simply means that the average age is rising i.e. an increasing proportion of the population belongs to higher age groups. According to the United Nations criteria, a population is considered as “aged” when more than 7 percent of its members are aged 65 and over, or more than 10 percent are aged 60 and over (UN, 1999). Nigeria is still a relatively “young” population when compared with most European countries and other countries where life expectancy is high. However when population aging is accompanied by slow economic growth, as is the case with Nigeria, adjustment made in the labour market, family institution and the economy as a whole are not always favourable to the society and therefore needs to be planned for (Denton & Spencer, 2000).

Less than three decades ago the global population was viewed as “young” rather than “old”. That is, 35 percent of all the persons in the world were 14 years of age or younger, compared to only 8.5 percent who were 60 and over (Link Age, 2000). This, however, has changed. Several factors have contributed to the increase in the number of elderly people around the world, most notably is the increase in life expectancy. Other factors include decline in fertility and improvement in public health (Wisensale, 2000). Improvement in life expectancy has been attributed to improved medical care brought about by technological advancement. Also the decline in fertility was brought about by


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more wide spread acceptability of family planning methods and economic realities of the time. A look at statistics from all around the world, attests to the fact that the population of the elderly is increasing. For instance, by 2025 one out of every four persons (25 percent) in the developed countries is projected to be 60 years or older (Cox, 2001; Lassey & Lassey, 2001). In the developing countries it is projected that only about 12 percent will be over 60 years however, they will constitute 71 percent of the world’s elderly population! (Wisensale, 2000; Lee, 1999; World Bank, 1998).

In Nigeria the story is not different. With the largest population in Africa and the tenth largest in the world, it is estimated that by the year 2025 the population of Nigerians aged 60 and above will constitute 6 percent of the entire population (UN, 1999). Also life expectancy is expected to rise to 64 years by 2025 while decline in fertility will result in older people (World Bank, 1998). What all these point to is that there will be increase in the number of elderly people to be supported and cared for. This may be well ahead of institutional readiness to cope with the growing number of the elderly judging by what is happening now. Caring for the elderly has always been taken for granted to be filial responsibility with little or no government support in Nigeria (Ekpeyong, 1995; Ohuche

&   Littrell, 1989). However social and economic changes currently occurring have cast doubt on the continued viability of such traditional arrangements for the elderly. Such changes like increased emphasis on smaller family units, migration to urban areas, more working wives, new life styles and changing values all have effects on the entire society, the youth inclusive, and will to a large extent affect their overall relationship with the elderly now and in future.

This study therefore explored how knowledgeable Nigerian youths are about aging issues considering that they are going to have the responsibility of taking care of the elderly in future either as family members or as policy makers. In addition the study examined some aging stereotypes held by these youths in order to ascertain, among other


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things, the way they feel about the elderly generally. This we believe will help us to predict their readiness to bear the burden of support and care for the aging in future. Finally the social policy implications of the study findings and the continued reliance on the family as the main care providers by Nigerian government considering what other countries are doing are discussed.

1.2        Statement of Problem

Population aging is a global phenomenon with important implication for developing as well as developed countries. This is because as the elder segment becomes a significant proportion of the total populace, society is confronted with a variety of issues and changes. These include problems of allocating national resources to address the needs of the older population and problems of care giving for a population that is living longer and requiring increased care. This was not so in traditional societies where due to low life-expectancy the scarcity value of the elderly made caring for them easy. There were also social structures and processes put in place to take care of the elderly. Caring for them normally fell within the domain of the extended family where parents, children and grand parents interact with mutual benefit to one another. For instance the elderly looked after the young as well as assist in their socialization while the young took care of their errands and the parents of the young in turn took care of the many needs of the elderly. The position of the elderly as survivors of generation conferred on them a lot of powers and also because they controlled property, they could use these rights to compel others to support them or provide them with goods and services (Akukwe, 1992).

Currently, the processes of modernization, urbanization, industrialization and the attendant migration of youths from rural to urban areas have greatly undermined the position of the aged in contemporary Nigerian society. The extended family system has


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progressively been weakened by the combined forces of economic hardship, wage labour, occupational and geographical mobility with the result that in some cases aging parents are abandoned because their children are unable to support them (Ekpeyong, 1995). The exodus of young people to the urban areas is threatening agriculture, which is the mainstay of many old people in the rural areas. The elderly woman is worse off because a lot of traditional practices still exist in contemporary Nigerian society that hinder her from actualising herself. Increase in life expectancy has brought about more elderly people and the trend will continue (United Nations, 1994). Before now, there was little chance that a man and his wife would survive to see all their grandchildren, but today a lot of them do.

This demographic situation, unique to our time, has profound significance for the planning and delivery of health and social services because the process of aging is often confounded with other associated factors. Such factors include deteriorating physical health, poor nutrition, bereavement, social isolation, and so on. This being the case, the demand for health services will increase, pension spending will rise and the need for other services will also arise. There will also be more pressure on caregivers, country’s resources and budgets.

Notwithstanding these realities, human service administrators and policy makers in Nigeria still believe that the elderly are always well cared for by their families and so have not shown any serious interest in the issue of aging. The reality being that many families in Nigeria do not have the resources to meet fully the needs of the elderly members (Ekpeyong, 1995). They have not realised that population aging will potentially be a very serious matter especially with the very limited resources available to support the elderly. Rather, emergency measures are introduced as the need arises (Edike, 2000). Special services for the aging in area of income, housing, medical services, care giving and so on are lacking. Also the national policy on the elderly is largely on paper with no effort being made to implement it. The only available service that the government


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provides for the elderly -the pension scheme-is grossly in disarray. In fact, pension responsibilities have become a growing financial burden for most states in the country (Ehigiator, 2000; Babasola, 2000; Olarinoye, 2000). The scheme however is only for those elderly who have been engaged in public service therefore gender differences in the receipt of pension is significant as the cohort of elderly women today did not work and so are left out.

In Nigeria, the system of inter-generational transfer from parents to children, adult-children to elderly parents, grand parents to grand children and grand children to grand parents in the area of family care-giving like baby sitting and child care (“ọmụgwọ”), inheritances, errand-running etc. used to be very strong. In fact it was built into the social fabric of the society and imbibed during the process of socialization. The reasons for these transfers include a sense of reciprocity, of filial responsibility, and of duty based on assistance previously provided by the family member concerned. Although today the family is still largely responsible for the social and economic well being of its elderly the burden of care for the increased number of elderly in future will be borne by the younger generation but it is doubtful if the youth of today is being prepared to bear such burdens. Apart from that there is the problem of the Nigerian youth having knowledge of issues relating to aging that will enable them to provide care in the future. Such knowledge includes increase in the population of the aging, type of services that the elderly need, and agencies that could provide such services. Since the youth of today will be the policy makers of tomorrow, it is important to investigate and find out if they have these necessary knowledge that will equip them for the future.

The process of development has brought with it, rapid change in social behaviours and institutions that may have adverse implications for the care and well being of the elderly person. For instance, many parents today spend very limited time with their children as a result of occupational and geographical mobility and so may not have


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impacted in their children the values of the elderly and the culture of care. These children may also not have been socialized into knowing the roles they are expected to play where the elderly is concerned (Riley et al, 1999). Similarly with growing financial needs many young people may not receive sufficient financial support from their parents and so may not feel that they owe them care in repayment for help and assistance they provided them over the years. Coupled with this, migration to the urban centres and the attendant economic hardship has reduced communication between the urban and the rural areas with the result that many young people born in the cities do not have sufficient interaction with grand parents because their parents can not afford to take them home. This lack of interaction has led many of them to develop stereotypes about elderly people. For instance a lot of young people view the elderly as being rigid, resistant to change, suspicious, dependent and even a burden to their relatives. Furthermore, many grand-parents today do not serve as nurturers and transmitters of family history and values to their grand children, because their own children, often go out of their way to limit contact between them and their grand children for reason that may best be described as strange. Bales et al, (2000) believe that decreased contact between children and grandparents within families has deprived many youths of the opportunity to gain first hand knowledge of the elderly. The result is often a gap, literally and figuratively, between generations. Studies have shown that lack of knowledge about aging issues appear to contribute to the development of stereotypes about elderly people (Falchikov, 1990; Langer, 1999). This may probably be because stereotypes about things tend to block new knowledge about the thing in which stereotype is held.

Scholars believe that the reduction in the elderly person’s control over productive resources in our society today, may for example affect the willingness of the youth to look after them and the kind of care that is provided since they may not see the benefit of such a “one-way” relationship (Dowd, 1981). Cowgill (1979) is of the view that new ideas,


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values, and conceptions may give legitimacy to young people’s neglect as well as reduce the effectiveness of “mystical” sanctions at the elderly persons command. In other words the process of societal modernization serves to disadvantage the elderly. These days we know that young people have more say over their own lives and family matters, such as marriages, education, and career. As such, one may not be surprised if they decide to spend their resources in future on their own advancements as they have imbibed leaving the elderly to be without adequate care. Apart from all these, the Nigerian youth of today are grappling with a lot more problems than their parents did during their youthful days. Such problems range from inadequate educational background, unemployment, child labour, and juvenile delinquency to generation unrest. With all these problems coupled with the desire of today’s youth to be independent and to have greater personal freedom, it may be difficult for them to have adequate knowledge of the aging issues that they may face in future. The elderly who has been brought up to expect that care will be forthcoming may find that changes have undermined or reduced the strength of social arrangements, cultural values, and resources that in the past guaranteed care.

Based on the foregoing therefore there is need for an investigation into what knowledge Nigerian youth has about aging issues and the stereotypes they have about elderly people. This is important because it may serve as a guide in knowing the direction future programmes and policies for the elderly should be focused. Most importantly, parents and grand parents can only rely upon the system of inter-generational transfer from children to parents and from grand children to grand parents if the loyalty of their children and grand children is assured. This is the thrust of this study.


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1.3        Research Questions

The issues that were covered in the study were made clearer with the help of some definite questions. Though not exhaustive, they served as guides for the study and include the following-

a.        Do the Nigerian youth have knowledge of issues related to aging?

b.      Do they express aging stereotypes?

c.      Is aging regarded in positive or negative terms by the Nigerian youth?

d.      Are there urban and rural differences in the youth’s knowledge of aging issues?

e.     




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