Caring for elders: Are (you)ths ready?

UNDP Accelerator Lab conducted a youth survey and workshop to understand the future of caregiving for ageing parents in Malaysia, that is undergoing a demographic transition towards an aged society by 2040.

July 2, 2024

This blog is produced under UNDP Malaysia Accelerator Lab, authored by Aisyah Azmi (Intern) and Jolyn Lok (Intern) and Dr. David Tan (Head of Exploration)

Caring for Elders: Are (You)th Ready?

Malaysia is progressing towards becoming an aged society by 2040, with 14.5% of the total population aged 65 and above (1), when one in seven individuals of the population will be considered elderly (2). Amid this demographic transformation, youth in Malaysia are grappling with evolving personal, social, economic, and political dynamics as they reimagine future care for their aging parents.  

To gain insights into these changes and the future of caregiving across regions in Malaysia, UNDP Accelerator Lab Malaysia surveyed 182 youths (3) representing diverse demographics on the future of care for aging parents and followed up with a validation workshop. This is what we discovered:

Filial Piety and Caregiving

Malaysian youth spanning diverse backgrounds in terms of race, religion, region, and socio-economic status are committed to caring for their parents and hold a high standard for caregiving, with 68% expecting to care for their parents themselves instead of relying on other family members or care facilities.  

“Caregiving is how we pay back [our] parents by taking care of them. It involves love, spending time, providing money, and planning for their old age.”  
(Workshop Participant N)  

Filial piety and responsibility are strong driving forces behind this commitment. Youth wanted to ensure their parents' emotional and physical needs are met and believed that they are best able to understand and meet their parents' preferences and requirements.  

The home remains the preferred place for caregiving. Only a small percentage would even consider sending their parents to care facilities. The strong reluctance for such facilities comes from the stigma associated with sending parents to care homes, coupled with concerns about the quality of care provided in such facilities.  

Filial piety and responsibility are strong driving forces behind this commitment.

Thomni Cao / Pexels
Navigating the Financial and Time Costs of Care

“Caregiving can be costly.” (Workshop Participant G)

“If [I] didn’t need to work so much, [I] would be able to take better care of [my] parents.” (Workshop Participant F)


While youth desire to care for their parents, the demands of caregiving are changing—with the elderly having longer but not necessarily healthier lifespans, fewer family members to share caregiving responsibilities, and threats posed by climate change. All of these increase the financial and time costs of caregiving. Youth from low-income households especially expect to provide for most or all their aging parents' financial needs. Many respondents lack confidence in their future financial capacity and anticipate working more than one job to do so.  

Limitations in financial capacity create caregiving dilemmas for youth. Given the demands of work, youth would like support—in the form of a domestic worker or nurse—to help them provide the quality of care needed for their parents to age in place. However, this was an option most did not think they could afford. Time spent working was perceived as a barrier to caregiving, yet work does not pay enough to employ caregiving support. This leaves many youths with inadequate resources to navigate the financial and time costs of caregiving. 

Fewer family members of reduce the responsibility can increase the financial and time costs of caregiving.

Jsme MILA / Pexels
Gender Dynamics in Caregiving: Balancing Roles and Burdens  

Traditional gender roles continue to influence the distribution of caregiving responsibilities between men and women. Gender dynamics often sees fathers cast in the role of the primary breadwinner while mothers manage household duties. This traditional paradigm, however, is changing with the rise of dual-income households as such, female youth are now more likely to provide parents with financial support than in the past.  

While the line for financial support is becoming less distinct between genders, gendered expectations ingrained in societal norms still shape the division of physical caregiving responsibilities. Female youth respondents feel compelled to conform to the traditional gender roles despite their aspirations for a more equitable distribution of caregiving responsibilities. While male respondents anticipate participating in physical care, their female counterparts exhibit a greater inclination to seek caregiving assistance. This suggests a heightened awareness among females regarding the demanding nature of caregiving and the anticipation that this responsibility may disproportionately rest on their shoulders. 

The Future of Caring for Aging Parents in Malaysia

How could these trends influence the future experiences of today's youth as they undertake caregiving responsibilities for their parents? We explored participants' anecdotes, aspirations, and concerns [4] in the context of potential future scenarios in Malaysia.

Anecdote 1: 
As the eldest son, Wan Yi is the primary financial provider for his parents. Both he and his wife, Xian, work long hours to keep up with the rapidly increasing cost-of-living. They left their small town to move to the city for work, but Wan Yi’s parents stayed because of ties to community. However, changing weather patterns caused Wan Yi’s hometown to start experiencing frequent flooding, so he took a loan to buy a larger home so his parents could move in with them. Xian had planned to stop working full-time for a few years to start a family but cannot do so with their new financial commitments. She appreciates her in-laws’ help with taking care of her children but wishes she could be there herself.  

Anecdote 2:  
Although she works two jobs away, Gayathri still faces financial challenges in supporting her parents. She is married but does not expect caregiving assistance for her aging parents from her spouse, firmly believing it is her duty as a daughter. Despite requiring physical assistance, her parents are unwilling to consider an aged-care centre. It is only because of cash assistance for all retirees—part of a newly introduced universal social protection programme—that she, her siblings, and her parents were able to pool enough money together to employ a live-in maid to look after her parents while she is away at work during the day.

Anecdote 3:  
After just two years of work, Ullok finds himself returning from Peninsular Malaysia to Sabah to take care of his sickly father after his mother passed away suddenly. As the youngest of five siblings, he is the only one unmarried and earned the least, making him the “logical” choice to return home—even though he has little experience in taking care of someone else. Being the baby of the family, everyone else had cared for him! His siblings are helping financially, but what he really needs is caregiving skills. A community-based care programme had helped his mother take care of his father; Ullok hopes they can help him too.  

Moving forward, with the growing care economy and ongoing efforts to formulate a Senior Citizens Bill in Malaysia, addressing these caregiving struggles of youth is crucial. It is essential to rethink and redefine caregiving to align with the true present and future needs of caregivers and the elderly. The caregiving ecosystem should not be limiting but rather expanding choices to support effective and inclusive caregiving for all. The future of caregiving in Malaysia hinges on the choices made today.

As stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of...old age...” [5].


For the full findings from the survey and workshop, download the PDF file below.

This is #4 of 6 blogs about Malaysia's future of climate and demographic shifts, ahead of the launch of an upcoming report, Transitioning Futures, Anticipating Change: Socioeconomic Futures of Malaysia’s Climate & Demographic Transition. Watch this space or follow us on social media for the report.


The future of caregiving in Malaysia hinges on the choices made today.

Pragyan Bezbo / Pexels
  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2016). Population Projection (Revised), Malaysia, 2010-2040.
  2. The ratio of elderly to non-elderly is calculated based on the projected population in 2040.
  3. Youth are defined as individuals aged 15 to 30 based on the Youth Societies and Youth Development Act (Amendment) 2019 (Act 668).  
  4. The narratives presented here are an amalgamation of participants' real-life anecdotes, enriched by elements of improvisation and imagination. Names are replaced using pseudonyms.
  5. United Nations. (n.d.). Universal Declaration of Human Rights.