To understand the phenomenon of ageing in India, the UNFPA India, in collaboration IIPS recently released ‘India Ageing Report 2023.’ The report presents a review of the living conditions and welfare of elderly individuals in India. As per this report, the share of those aged 60 and older, the elderly population in India is estimated to rise from 10.5% in 2022 to 20.8% in 2050.
In 2022, there were 1.1 billion people aged 60 or older worldwide, accounting for 13.9% of the total population of 7.9 billion. Over the next 30 years, this elderly population is expected to double to 2.1 billion by 2050, making up 22% of the global population. This trend is evident in all regions. The more developed regions will see the proportion of older individuals increase from 26% in 2022 to more than one-third of the population in 2050, while less developed regions will see an increase from 11.5% to 20%.
Asia, with 649 million individuals aged 60 and older is home to the majority (58%) of the global elderly population. In the next three decades, the share of older individuals in the total population in Asia is expected to go up from 13.7% to 25%, reaching a total of 1.3 billion by 2050. India, just like the rest of the world, will also witness this demographic transition.
India Ageing Report 2023 was released recently
To understand the phenomenon of ageing in India, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) India, in collaboration with the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), recently released ‘India Ageing Report 2023.’ The report presents a review of the living conditions and welfare of elderly individuals in India and scrutinizes the obstacles, opportunities, and institutional responses associated with elderly care in the country. The increasing number of elderly people in India will have a significant impact on healthcare, the economy, and society. To deal with this, the government and other groups need to prepare by making plans and policies to ensure the well-being of the elderly now and in the future.
The latest data available from the Longitudinal Ageing Survey in India (LASI), 2017–18, Census of India, 2011, Population Projections by the Government of India (2011–2036) and World Population Prospects 2022 by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs have been used in the report.
One in five persons by 2050 & one in three persons by 2100 will be a senior citizen aged 60 years & over
According to the report, the elderly population in India has been growing rapidly in the past few years, and this trend is expected to persist in the coming decades. The share of those aged 60 and older (hereafter referred to as the elderly population) is estimated to rise from 10.5% in 2022 to 20.8% in 2050. By the end of the century, the elderly will constitute over 36% of the total population of the country.
However, the share is still much lower than that projected for 2050 in Japan (43.7%), South Korea (46.4%), and China (38.8%). The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries are projected to have only about 19.8% population above 60 years by 2050. Within SAARC, Bangladesh (21.3%), Bhutan (23.8%), Maldives (34.1%) and Sri Lanka (27%) are estimated to be above the SAARC average by 2050. India is expected to report around 20% elderly by 2050. Though the share seems small, the absolute numbers will be very large. The share of the elderly is low in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Huge variation across states persists in terms of share of elderly population
Between 2021 and 2036, the estimated share of the population of elderly persons in India is expected to increase from 10.1% to 15%. The share of the elderly population varies significantly across different states. Several factors contribute to this variation, including differences in birth rates, healthcare access, economic opportunities, and lifestyle choices. In 2021, many states in the south and some in the north, like Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, had a greater share of elderly people in their population compared to the national average. This difference is likely to grow further by 2036.
On the other hand, in states with higher fertility rates and slower demographic transition, like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, even though there will be an increase in the share of the elderly population by 2036, it will still be less than the national average. At the same time, in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the share of the elderly population is estimated to cross 20% by 2036.
A larger proportion of the elderly population is composed of women
The recent report has highlighted the three aspects of ageing that create significant challenges. One is the higher life expectancy for women which results in women living longer than men (feminization) resulting in higher levels of widowhood and associated socio-cultural and economic deprivations and dependencies. The trend in the sex ratio (females per 1000 males) of the general population and of the elderly population over the years and the projections for the next two decades are given in the following graph. It is clearly visible that since 1991, the sex ratio among the elderly has been rising steadily, while the sex ratio of the general population remains the same. This difference is going to be significant by 2031.
The second challenge raised by the report is ruralisation or the increasing proportion of the rural population among the elderly. Data from Census 2011 indicates that on average, 71% of older persons live in rural areas. There is significant interregional variation as well. The challenge is that many rural areas in India still have limited access to good roads and transportation. This means that older people living in rural areas are faced with income insecurity, poor access to healthcare, and isolation as compared to their urban counterparts.
The third challenge raised is the ageing of aged people. During 2000–2022, the total population of India grew by 34%, while the population of elderly persons aged 60+ years grew by 103% (more than doubled). The population of older persons aged 80+ years grew by 128%. Projections show that between 2022 and 2050, India’s overall population will grow by 18%, while the elderly population will grow by 134%. The population of persons aged 80+ years is expected to increase by 279% with a notable presence of widowed and highly dependent elderly women.
Moreover, as the youth migrate to other states and countries, about one-fifth of the elderly either live alone or only with a spouse.
Government has rolled out various measures for social and financial security of senior citizens
Chronic health conditions and the physical and cognitive limitations that come with age are major challenges for the elderly population. Social isolation and loneliness can take a toll on their mental well-being, exacerbated by the loss of friends and family. Financial insecurity and the rising costs of healthcare and daily living expenses create stress for those on fixed incomes. Housing and mobility can also become hurdles, among other problems they face. Addressing these challenges and providing support is vital to ensuring the dignity and well-being of the elderly.
Various schemes and policies have been rolled out by Ministries of the Central Government that extend financial benefits and security to the elderly. These include Annapurna Scheme, Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS), Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (Ministry of Rural Development), Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana, and Senior Citizens’ Savings Scheme (SCSS) (Ministry of Finance). The elderly are also extended concessions and rebates including a microfinancing scheme providing concessional loans to small businesses.
Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was brought in to ensure need-based maintenance for parents and senior citizens and their welfare. The Act defines maintenance as including provision for food, clothing, residence, medical attendance, and treatment. An explainer of this Act by Factly can be read here. CSR funds are also being used for the welfare of senior citizens.
However, the awareness about the schemes and provisions is low. Only a small share of them is aware of the schemes as depicted below.
Noting that numerous government schemes and policies are in place to address the health, financial empowerment, and capacity-building needs of the elderly population, the report calls for increasing awareness about the same among the elderly population. It also called for enhancing geriatric care, and that community-based organizations (CBOs) and other stakeholders be involved in extending various services. The report also noted that there was a lack of credible data on various issues related to the elderly and suggested that relevant questions be included in data collection exercises such as the National Sample Survey, the National Family Health Survey, and the Census of India.