The number of Moroccans aged 60 and over is expected to triple by 2050, making that demographic one-quarter of the total population, a report released by Morocco’s High Commission for Planning stated.
The report said Morocco’s total population would increase to 43.6 million in 2050, with 10.1 million (23.2%) aged 60 and over. In 2014, Moroccans aged 60 or older accounted for 9.4% of the population.
Sociologist Soumaya Naamane Guessous said the trend could come with severe social consequences.
“We know very well that pensions are ridiculous and that not all the population has pension rights and medical coverage,” Guessous said. “What has been bothering me for the last 20 years is to see families getting more and more nuclearised because they have to adapt to the changing lifestyle.
“Before, it was the children who were taking care of their parents but now it’s the other way round because of the current economic climate that is making it difficult for children to quit their parents’ house at an early age,” said Guessous, a professor at Hassan II University in Casablanca.
“We are in a country that is not prepared to cater to the needs of the elderly as public care homes are very few. Even those ones do not meet pensioners’ demands and expectations.
“There is a lack of leisure places where the elderly can spend their time. It is heartbreaking to see old men playing checkers with a piece of cardboard and stones in the streets. This will adversely affect their dignity and make them feel marginalised in their own society, which will backfire on their families,” she added.
Another long-term problem is financing pensions. With the active workforce on pace to increase only slightly relative to the elderly population, pensions will put a huge burden on the government’s coffers.
The potentially active population (15-59 years old) would be 25.6 million in 2050, up from 21.1 million in 2014.
“We are going to reach a stage in which the government will not be able to pay pensions because there will be a minority (workforce) working for a majority (pensioners),” said Guessous.
The previous government overhauled state pension policy by raising the workers’ contributions and retirement age to 63 by 2022, despite strong opposition from trade unions.
Guessous said Moroccan cities have been ruralised and the exodus from rural areas to cities will continue while rural inhabitants are being marginalised and deprived of education, health care and other basic services.
“When I travelled in the most remote areas in Morocco, I asked the youth about their dream and the answer was to leave the countryside,” she said.
By 2050, Moroccan cities would be home to 73.6% (32.1 million) of the country’s inhabitants, up from 60.3% (20.4 million) in 2014. The rural population would see a decline in its workforce, to 11.5 million people in 2050, from 13.4 million in 2014.
“We will end up with an ageing population in rural areas because of the youth’s exodus,” said Guessous, adding that the street vendors frequently seen in cities are largely the fruit of the “rural exodus,” which “is due to the absence of a solid political structure to improve the standard of living in rural areas.”
“Consequently, the cities will find themselves unable to accommodate the increasing number of country people who are likely to live in substandard housing, which will in turn exacerbate poverty and crime and place considerable strain on their infrastructure, especially schools and hospitals,” she warned.
The Moroccan government is stepping up its fight against substandard housing by introducing social housing. In September, Settat became the 58th city without slums.
The eradication of substandard housing in Casablanca, however, seems to be taking longer than planned. Thirteen years after the implementation of the city’s programme to end slums, unregulated neighbourhoods and shantytowns continue to swarm.
“The rural flow is so important that it has surpassed the creation of housing despite the extraordinary policy of social housing,” said Guessous.
“Right now, we have not seen any long-term strategies and policies that can adapt to these situations. It is good to project the country’s future population but the main question is: What are we going to do today to solve these problems?”
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.