According to the UNPF (United Nations Population Fund ‘State of World Population 2023 report’, India has surpassed China to become the world’s most populated country with 1.43 billion people by mid-2023. But India being one of the two superpowers in the growing population is undergoing drastic demographic change. Due to this India is witnessing unprecedented population ageing due to increasing longevity and declining fertility. This demographic shift poses massive and complex challenges to Indian society through a rising burden of non-communicable diseases, a vulnerable female-heavy older adult population, a changing family structure, and a lack of a social safety net.
Rise in India’s Ageing Population
According to the United Nations Population Division, India’s population ages 60 and older is projected to increase dramatically over the next four decades, from 8 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2050.
Three dominant demographic processes drive the growing share of older Indians:
1) Declining fertility rates due to improved access to contraceptives, increasing age at marriage, particularly among women, and declining infant mortality.
2) Increasing longevity because of advances in medicine, public health, nutrition, and sanitation;
3) Large cohorts advancing to older ages.
The NSO report said this trend has strengthened in the last two decades. The elderly female and male population is projected to rise to 100.9 million and 92.9 million, respectively, in 2031. This unprecedented trend is observed more in southern states as compared to northern states because of the increase.
Changes in Culture
Due to the increase in the population of aged people, there has been a tremendous shift in the traditional values and institutions that are witnessing the process of erosion and adaptation, resulting in the weakening of intergenerational ties that were considered the hallmark of the traditional family.
An increase in longevity and decline of joint family and breakdown in social fabric pushes seniors into loneliness and neglect. Due to loneliness and continuous neglect, there have been rising cases of mental illness, and depression among the older generation which is putting an extra burden on the country’s health system. Palliative care can act as a catalyst to get out of this trap of neglecting the jewel of a family’s cultural thread.
A healthy life, with physical activity, a good diet, and avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and other habit-forming substances is recommended. Positive attitude and mental well-being promote quality of life in the advancing years.
- Decrease in Productivity- With an aging population, productivity of the country’s human resources gets a major setback. A positive growth rate can be maintained with higher levels of demographic window – in other words, when there are a larger number of economically active individuals. Their contribution can help in achieving medium and long-term growth targets.
- Economic Burden- Due to the rise in non-working population, the country is undergoing an economic burden with respect to heavy healthcare costs, pensions, combating mental illness of the needy, etc.
- Dependency on Infrastructure- With respect to social justice and infrastructure, the government has to spend on housing security for older adults that are adding fuel to the fire and raising the government’s fiscal deficit.
- Financial Burden- The elderly population is putting extra pressure on poor families who have bare hand-to-mouth subsistence as they become dependent individuals and due to financial distress the aged population becomes more prone to harassment and violent activities due to which there is rise in old age homes.
- Women at more Disadvantageous Position- Generally, women live more than men and if we compare women’s labour force participation then it is much less than men so particularly women are on the verge of facing exploitation.
- Financial Education- No one can predict the future but it is always advisable to increase the capacity for domestic savings that will enable increased investments and accumulation of productive capital that can be used at a later stage.
- Technological Knowledge- Technology change can act as a powerful tool to overcome this issue by providing them with technical literacy that can be used by them in later stages to earn a livelihood with comfort and can also solve the problem of loneliness and can prove instrumental in the country’s development.
- Policy Implementations- Policy changes and programs must pay attention to the special needs and situations of older women, particularly widows, to ensure the well-being of all of the country’s older population.
- Health-Care Investment- India must take significant steps to ensure the health of its aging population. A large component of these steps must include programs and policies for the prevention, detection, and treatment of noncommunicable diseases; this is important both for today’s population of older adults and for the current generation of younger adults to ensure healthy future aging.
Geriatric centers in medical institutions across the country should be set up that can act as research and academic institutes for geriatric medicine and provide health services to the local older adult population. “Telehealth” call and monitoring centers should be set up that will offer health advice and support to aging adults. Focus should also be put on the financial security and independence of older women, regardless of their marital status, and legislation should make sure that laws ensuring women’s property and inheritance rights are upheld and enforced properly.
The country must also continue its progress in promoting the education of women and girls and encouraging female workforce participation so that future generations of older adult women can become more politically empowered and depend less on husbands or families for their income. Several initiatives have already been taken by the government such as the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, which allows adults 60 and older who are “unable to maintain” themselves to bring legal action against adult children or grandchildren who fail to provide them with such basic necessities as housing, food, clothing, and medical, but these government initiatives should be complementary to family-centered social welfare measures that can ensure there desired results.
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Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.
Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Manya Deshpande for their kind comments and suggestions to improve the article.
This article was posted by Tanu Paliwal , a research intern at IMPRI.
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