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Data: The share of Elderly population is set to increase to 13.1% in 2031 which was 5.6% in 1961

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The government recently released a ‘Elderly in India- 2021’ report that provides demographic and other forms of data related to the elderly. The data indicates that the share of ‘elderly’ in the overall population is estimated to reach 13.1% in 2031, up from 8.6% in 2011 and 5.6 in 1961. However, there are wide variations among states.

In an earlier story, we analysed some key trends relating to the elderly population in the country, based on the data from the 75th Round of NSS report released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI). It was evident from this report that more elderly couples were staying alone than earlier, around 1/3rd of the elderly was financially independent and a higher dependence on children & grandchildren among the dependent. 

Recently, MOSPI published the ‘Elderly in India- 2021’  report. This is the Fifth Edition of the report, which was first brought out by MoSPI in 2000. The data collected & furnished by MoSPI regarding the elderly in the country is key for their inclusion in development planning. This is in line with the pledge of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development – ‘No One To Be Left Behind’.

In this story, we look at a few of the important trends regarding the elderly population in the country as provided by this report, more specifically on the Population statistics. Individuals who are 60 years and above are considered elderly population as per the report. 

Increase in share of the elderly population over the decades with the increase in life expectancy

Data indicates that there has been a steady increase in the share of the elderly population since 1961.  The report observes that this is mainly due to the fall in death rates that was made possible through various health interventions resulting in increased life expectancy. 

In 1961, the elderly population constituted around 5.6% of the total population of India. Over the ensuing decades, there was a steady increase with the elderly population constituting 8.6% of the total population as per the 2011 census. As per census projections, the elderly population is estimated to be 10.1% in 2021 and their share would reach 13.1% of the total population by 2031. 

The trend is similar for both male & female populations. However, the growth rate in the share of elderly females among the total female population is higher than that of elderly males among the total male population. 

As per the 1961 census, elderly females constituted 5.8% of the total female population. This increased to 9% by 2011 and is projected to increase to 10.7% in 2021 and to 14% in 2031. In the case of males, elderly males constituted 5.5% of the total male population in 1961. This increased to 8.2% in 2011 and is projected to be 9.6% as per the 2021 census and 12.3% by 2031.  

Along with the share of the elderly population (> 60 years), the share of the population in the 15-59 age group has also increased. The share of the population in this age group was 56.1% during the 1961 census and increased to 60.3% in 2011 and is projected to increase to 64.4% by the 2021 census. The increase in the share of the population for these two age groups comes at the cost of the younger population in the 0-14 years age. Their share fell from 38.4% in 1961 to 30.8% in 2011 and is projected to further fall to 25.5% in 2021. The decreasing fertility rates and birth rates could be reasons for the fall in their share. 

The decadal growth rate of the elderly population is nearly five times that of the general population growth rate 

Population data from the recent report indicates an increasing proportion of the elderly population, aided by people living longer coupled with falling birth rates. These contrasting trends become more conspicuous when the decadal growth rate is considered. 

During the decade of 1951-61, the overall population growth rate of India was 21.6%, while the growth rate specific to the elderly population was 23.9%. In the ensuing decades, the overall population growth rate increased to 24.8% during 1961-71 followed by 24.7% during 1971-81. Since then, the decadal growth rate has continuously decreased. For 2001-2011, the decadal growth rate of the overall population of India is 17.7%, which is expected to further fall to 12.4% for 2011-21. 

The case of elderly population growth rate followed an almost opposite trend from 2001. After an increase in the growth rate for 1961-71 at 33.7%, the growth of the elderly population fell successively till the 1991-2001 decade. However, the trend reversed starting from 2001. During 2001-2011, the growth rate of the elderly population was 35.5%. Projections for 2011-21 show a slight increase at 35.8 % and the 2021-31 projection estimate the growth in the elderly population to be 40.5%. In other words, for the 2021-31 period, the growth rate of the elderly population is estimated to be around 5 times the growth rate of the total population. 

Better health infrastructure & interventions since the turn of the century leading to longer life period could be some of the major reasons for this trend. This is coupled with falling birth rates and hence a greater share of the population above 14 years. The trends also point to early signs of an aging population. 

Fall in the death rates across age categories of the elderly population 

Across the different age groups of the elderly population, data indicates a general fall in death rates over the last 10 years or so. As per the information provided in the Elderly in India 2021 report, there were around 22.5 deaths per 1000 population among the 60-64 years age category in 2008, which fell to 18.4 in 2013. Although there was a slight increase in 2018, it was still lower than in 2008. The same is the case with the 65-69 age group. 

In the higher age groups, i.e., 70-74, 75-79, 80-84 & 85 + years, the general trend has been of a decline. It must be noted that the death rate is progressively higher as age increases. But a comparison over the years indicates a general declining trend from 2008 to 2018. Even in the case of the 85 + years age group, although there was an increase in death rate to 212.7 per 1000 in 2013, it fell to 174.7 in 2018. 

Southern States have a greater increase in the proportion of the elderly population compared to states like U.P. & Bihar

Across the states, there is an increase in the share of the elderly population among the respective state population, when the figures from 2001 are compared with the projected numbers for 2021. However, larger disparities exist not only in the proportion of the elderly population among the overall population but also in the growth of this population over this 20-year period. 

  • Kerala is at the top with 16.5% of its population considered to be elderly for 2021, compared to 10.5% in 2001, an increase of 6%. 
  • In the case of Tamil Nadu, the share of the elderly population is estimated to increase from 8.8% (2001) to 13.6% (2021). Tamil Nadu is next only to Kerala both in terms of the increase as well as the highest proportion of the elderly population within the state. 
  • Maharashtra, Punjab & Himachal Pradesh also have a higher proportion of the elderly population, but the growth is lower compared to the other states.  
  • The two other southern States of Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka have a comparably higher growth rate. Telangana, formed in 2014 after bifurcation from Andhra Pradesh is projected to have an elderly population of 11% in 2021. 
  • Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh & Bihar apart from having a very low proportion of the elderly population also has a very low growth rate of around 1.1% during 2001-2021. A similar trend is observed in states – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh & Rajasthan  

The trends show a clear difference between the states. As highlighted earlier, the availability of better health interventions, economic well-being, etc. are regarded as the main reasons for the increase in the elderly population. This seems to reflect in the case of southern states, which are considered more economically developed compared to the northern and central states. 

U.P, Bihar, M.P, and other states with a lower proportion of the elderly population are also among the states with poor health infrastructure. Better population control & family planning measures in the southern states in the last 3-4 decades also seem to have contributed to these numbers. 

Age demographics help in making the right policy decisions aimed at the well-being of elderly 

A higher life expectancy as seen in the increasing proportion of the elderly population in some ways reflects the general health status of the population. Data relating to Life -expectancy after 60 years, also shows that there is an increase in the number of years of life expectancy beyond this age. All these factors confirm the improvement in health infrastructure & advances in healthcare over the last few decades. 

However, as observed, this is not uniform across the country. Some of the economically well-off states have a higher proportion of the elderly population. While this reflects a better healthcare environment for the elderly, these states are more vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19 because of a higher proportion of the elderly who are among the most vulnerable groups. 

The dichotomy of a higher share of the elderly population due to better standards of living and the greater chance of exposure to health risks was highlighted in a 2020 report by the RBI. The states with higher COVID-19 positive cases during the first wave were the more developed ones and the ones with a higher proportion of the elderly population. 

The detailed data on the elderly demographics can help the governments to plan effectively for the wellbeing of the elderly population, in terms of welfare measures, setting up support systems, etc. 

However, the population data of the elderly tell us only a part of the story. The standard of living of the elderly population (economic, health & social status) is important to ascertain their overall well-being. We will analyse the data on these aspects in the next story. 

Featured Image: Elderly in India- 2021 Report

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