Outmigration as well as a lack of services and kin are impacting older adults in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s population is aging more rapidly than almost any country, according to a Penn State study. In fact, the island has the 10th highest percentage of older adults in the world.
Additionally, emigration has increased in the past five years, mostly due to hurricanes and earthquakes, but the island’s population had also been dealing with economic challenges and political turmoil even before these natural disasters.
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Amílcar Matos-Moreno, a Puerto Rican postdoctoral scholar from the Population Research Institute at Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, observed the trend in several studies.
“I was surprised to find that over the last 10 years, Puerto Rico has nearly doubled its percentage of adults older than age 65 due to the outmigration of over 700,000 working-age adults,” Matos-Moreno said in a statement.
This reality is causing massive implications for the island. Beyond the economic and social factors, the team also examined the associations between familial separation and mental health, social networks and psychological well-being, and the sociodemographic characteristics of older adults.
Puerto Rico’s older adult population is impacted by several factors including outmigration, a lack of services, and a lack of kin.
“The older adults left behind as a result of outmigration are facing many challenges, including a reduction in government services, poor economy, disruption of social support networks, and increased isolation, which can lead to health issues,” Matos-Moreno said.
The study says that as a result of the population changes, the island faces significant challenges “in improving income security, providing health care services, and assuring the well-being of its aging population.”
The researchers also said the local government has tried to address the problem of an aging population by passing the Demographic Challenge Act in order to study factors impacting demographics on the island and the needs of older adults.
However, it needs to incentivize working-age adults to stay or return and contribute to the island’s family structure, healthcare system, and economy.
“We can’t look to other countries as to what might happen, because Puerto Rico is the first to be so widely impacted by outmigration and the reduction of social services,” Matos-Moreno said.