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The two most common concerns of nearly all people as they reach the elderly years are their health and their economic security. These concerns are intrinsically interrelated; health problems are generally more common at advanced ages, as is diminished earning capacity resulting from retirement and the cessation of productive activity. Specifically, when health problems increase in old age, the costs incurred in seeking healthcare become a greater concern for an elderly person since the individual would more likely have to rely on savings to meet this need. In developed countries, formal support systems in the form of retirement benefits and pension plans ensure that most people who exit from the labour force in their elderly years are assured of economic sustenance, while health insurance systems take care of much of the financial burden of healthcare. In developing countries like the Philippines, formal support systems are still underdeveloped. As such, the majority of older people still rely on the traditional and informal sources of support provide kin when they themselves are not able to ensure their own economic and health needs (World Bank 1994). One indicator of the lack of an adequate formal support system for older individuals is the higher rate of labour force participation at these ages compared with countries with formal retirement systems (United Nations 2007; United Nations 2002). Typically, in the absence of such a formal system, there is no fixed and mandatory retirement age and people continue economic activity as long as they are physically and mentally able to do so. This period can be fraught with economic uncertainty if failing health threatens the older person's capacity to continue to provide for his/her own needs and that of his/her dependents.
Another common concern is the gender dimension of work and retirement. Much of the literature plays up the potential for unequal vulnerability to adverse economic and health outcomes between men and women.
Older women are often perceived as more vulnerable to social, economic, and health disadvantages. It is often surmised that gender discrimination is the main cause for the disadvantages they face. In situations where social structures reinforce such gender biases, particularly in education and employment opportunities, the cumulative effect of earlier life experiences render older women generally poorer than men. There are those who argue that the perceived disadvantaged position of older women may be an oversimplified global generalization which ignores the substantial variations in the relative situations of older men and women (Ofstedal, Reidy, and Knodel 2004; Knodel and Ofstedal 2003). In the Philippines, for example, the legal framework affirms equality for all citizens regardless of gender, which has helped ensure a relatively high degree of protection of its women. This is not to say that gender equality has been fully achieved, given the discrimination against women that continues to prevail in some sectors in the Philippines. It is thus important to understand the gender situation, particularly on the economic front among the older cohort, most of whom come from the generations that preceded the enactment of policies and programmes that have protected the rights and privileges of women in the country.
This chapter aims to provide an empirical analysis of the economic well-being of older Filipinos highlighting differences across gender and marital status groups. It explores the levels and differentials in economic status of older people using various objective and subjective indicators of economic well-being. The extent to which subjective and objective indicators of economic well-being interrelate with each other is likewise examined so as to generate a more appropriate measure for assessing the economic well-being of older Filipinos. This analysis is of importance in a low-income country such as the Philippines where a third of the country's population is currently living in poverty (UN OCHA, n.d.), with the older sector expected to be more vulnerable to economic liabilities.