What do people think of India

Getting gray

India's population continues to grow, but by the middle of the century there will be more people over 60 and children under 15 than those of working age. The government and civil society should now think about better social services for the elderly.

India's population is now only growing by 1.1 percent per year. With 1.36 billion people in the country, there will still be an additional 150 million in absolute terms by the end of this decade. At the same time, society is aging - faster than in industrialized countries. The proportion of the over-60s in the total Indian population is increasing from year to year. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, 2017), the rate will rise from eight percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2050. This demographic development raises the question of how India will support its elders from the middle of the century - if it does more for the first time People of non-working age exist as such of working age.

The reasons for the aging of the population are the same in India as everywhere. People live longer thanks to better health care, better nutrition and better hygiene awareness. India's death rate - the number of deaths per 1,000 people in a year - has been falling steadily for decades.

At the same time, families with higher education and higher incomes have fewer children. The fertility rate (average number of children per woman over the course of a lifetime) and the birth rate (based on the entire population in a given year) have been falling steadily for years. At the same time, the under-five mortality rate has decreased enormously due to the control of infectious and parasitic diseases, more vaccinations and generally improved healthcare. As a result, children are now more likely to survive than they used to be, which mitigates the consequences of the lower birth rate.

In contrast to the number of children, the number of old people is increasing rapidly. The aging index clearly shows this trend. It gives the number of people over 60 years of age per 100 children under 15 years of age. In 1961 the ratio was 13.7 elderly people per 100 children. By 2011 the rate had more than doubled to 28.4.

These trends have implications for India's future. 30 years from now, when today's gradually shrinking cohort of children is of working age, many millions of today's workers will be retired. That combination - more retirees and fewer workers to replace them - could be difficult. It is not clear how India's workforce will support the vast majority of non-working people by the middle of the century.

India currently still enjoys a “demographic dividend,” by which we mean that there are far more people of working age than others. However, demographic data show that the positive rate is continuously decreasing. Statistics show that in 1971 people of working age cared for a relatively large cohort of babies and children under the age of 15 and a relatively small elderly population. Forty years later, the children of the baby boom had grown up. People between the ages of 15 and 60 are in the majority - that's good from an economic point of view.

But when demographers project current trends into the future, things look different. In 2031, in just 11 years, the large working-age cohort of 2011 will retire. By 2031, the base of the demographic pyramid - the age groups most people are in - will still be firmly in the working age range, but the entire pyramid will have shifted up the age axis compared to 2011. There will be far more people over 60 than in 2011.

The demographers foresee further implications in 2051. Then the age group of 50 to 55-year-olds - barely of working age - will be the largest. In addition, there will be significantly more people over the age of 55 than in 2031.

At the same time, there will be fewer children under 15 in 2051 than in 2031. This suggests that from 2051 there will not be enough newcomers to replace those who retire. There will be more people of inactive age than those of working age, which will put a significant strain on the labor force.

Need for new social services

All of this begs the question of where financial, social and psychological support for the aging Indian population is supposed to come from. In Indian culture, family is still the mainstay of the elderly, but that is changing in times of urbanization and globalization.

In addition to financial dependency, the elderly are also hit hard by problems such as isolation, illness and disability. Individual fulfillment is becoming more important, which is why the elderly could feel stronger that they are not valued.

All of these issues should be addressed by governments, non-governmental initiatives, and academics before they become acute. All sides need to work together. India will need a complex approach that takes into account the different needs of different subgroups of older people. Particular attention should be paid to the aging poor, women and rural residents.

Efforts to improve the quality of life of the elderly should be based on demographic facts. There are different numbers of old people in the Indian states. In 2011, the state of Kerala proportionally had the most over-60s (12.3 percent) and Assam the fewest (6.5 percent).

The levels of poverty and illiteracy among the elderly also vary widely. In addition, there tends to be more elderly people in rural areas than in cities, which attract younger workers. There is also a gender aspect: women live longer on average than men, so many of those over 60 are likely to be female.

These factors - geography, urbanization, gender, income, and education - influence the level and type of support older people will need. This also applies to intangible aspects such as the change in norms and values, which have an impact on how much help older people receive from their families and how much government and civil society need additional support.

India has started to respond to the needs of the elderly. The 1992 Integrated Elderly Program (revised in 2008) provides food and shelter, medical care and entertainment. The 1999 "National Strategy for Older People" aims at food and shelter, financial support, health care and protection against abuse. A 2007 Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act provides retirement homes, medical facilities, and property protection for abandoned seniors.

The underlying policy is designed to meet the needs of older people from specific population groups. With increasing age, such measures become more and more important.

UNFPA, 2017: India aging report.

S. S. Sripriya is a research associate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

S. Siva Raju is a professor at the campus of the same institute in Hyderabad.