Ageing India, the unsexy story.

Edition #2: Emergence of the older adult population

Jobs. Youth. Growth.

You cannot possibly miss these words in today’s India. Everything else (health, education, skills, investments, innovation, technology) folds into this meta narrative. Elections are likely won, and lost, on these promises.

Here is an April 2019 post from Dr Shamika Ravi, a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India.

The article is about jobs in the context of ease of business environment in states, pre-demonetization and GST rollout.

  • Dynamic states are defined by ease of business environment -> They tend to have lower unemployment.
  • Progressive states are defined by better human development indicators -> This doesn’t necessarily mean they are job creators.

A recent article in India Spend, a platform that analyses open data to inform policy and governance, talks about India’s demographic dividend and how the national narrative varies when it comes to states. Let us look at this a bit closely.

67 out of 100 persons in India are currently in the working age population (15 to 59 years). The rest are considered dependents.

Right now, India has a low dependency ratio and this positively correlates to higher economic growth. The working age population will continue to increase till 2031, and stay stable until 2041.

All else given, a higher working age population is suitable for high economic growth and allows us as a nation to reap (economic) benefit from the (demographic) dividend.

This is only half the story. Why?

The fertility rates are falling in Tamil Nadu, New Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Punjab and West Bengal. Moreover, in these states, the fertility rates are lower than replacement rates. Their window of opportunity from the demographic dividend will close by 2021.

For a second group of states that include Karnataka, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, J&K, Uttarakhand, Haryana, it will start closing in 2031.

States where the window of opportunity is closing have to prepare themselves for an emerging demographic – people over 60 years – commonly referred as ‘senior citizens’.

Ageing India

The number of senior citizens stands at 100 million plus today, and expected to rise to rise to 350 million by 2050. Southern states (along with Punjab and HP) show faster growth of this demographic. These are also states with human development indicators above the national average.

Longevity, i.e., average life of general population, is expected to rise from 67.5 years in 2015 to 75.9 years in 2050, and this is a key reason why the ‘ageing population bulge’ is inevitable.

Looking back into the census 2011 household data, one can see early warning signals from the changing family patterns.

What does this mean?

  • Joint family systems are breaking down due to economic migration (rural-urban, urban-urban) and other factors.
  • Seniors are increasingly living by themselves, and dependent on secondary support structures.
  • Loneliness and lack of companionship are aspects that come out strongly from multiple studies by UNFPA, HelpAge, AgeWell and other non-profits working on senior care.
  • The country is under-prepared to meet the needs of this hidden demographic. Meeting healthcare needs is only one aspect.
  • The senior care ecosystem in itself presents an area of opportunity for investment, jobs and innovation.

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