Context: The United Nations Population Fund, India, has released the “2023 India Ageing Report,” which projects a significant increase in the elderly population in India.
The report used data from the 2011 Census, the 2017-18 Longitudinal Ageing Survey in India (LASI) conducted by the Health Ministry, population projections of the Government of India and the World Population Projection 2022 report.
Key findings and implications of the report
- Estimated a decadal growth rate of 41% for the elderly population in India and by 2050, the elderly population will make up over 20% of India’s total population.
- By 2046, it is expected that the elderly population will surpass the population of children aged up to 15.
- More than 40% of India’s elderly population is in the poorest wealth quintile, and around 18.7% of them live without any income such levels of poverty may affect their quality of life and healthcare utilisation.
- Women, on average, had higher life expectancy at the age of 60 and at 80, when compared to men with variations across States and Union Territories.
- In Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, and the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, women aged 60 can expect to live more than 20 additional years.
- Since 1991, the elderly sex ratio (females per 1,000 males) has been rising consistently, except in Union Territories and western India.
- Poverty is gendered in old age, with older women more likely to be widowed, living alone, and dependent on family support.
- There was a significant inter-state variation in absolute levels and growth of the elderly population as well, reflecting the different stages and pace of demographic transition across States.
- Most States in the southern region and select northern States such as Himachal Pradesh and Punjab reported a higher share of the elderly population than the national average in 2021, a gap that is expected to widen by 2036.
- The report also notes that increasing life expectancy and declining fertility rates are contributing to a global trend of ageing populations.
- This trend is not unique to India but is observed worldwide, which will have implications for countries across the globe.
Challenges faced by the elderly population
- Ruralisation of Elderly Population: According to the Census of India 2011, on average, 71 per cent of older persons live in rural areas, with significant interregional variation, ranging from 62–63 per cent in the west and south to 78–80 per cent in the east, north and north-east.
- Feminisation of Elderly Population: Women living longer than men resulting in higher levels of widowhood and associated socio-cultural and economic deprivations and dependencies.
- Economic challenges: More than 40% of India’s elderly population is in the poorest wealth quintile, and around 18.7% live without income, making it hard for them to have a good life and get the healthcare they need.
- Income insecurity is one of the major causes of vulnerability especially in old age. 47% share of elderly women who never worked in the past. Around 33 per cent of the older females have never worked and do not have any income
- Disease prevalence: Over 30 per cent of the elderly women and 28 per cent of the men suffered from one chronic morbid condition and nearly one-fourth (across both sexes) suffered from more than two morbid conditions. With the increasing age, the share in such conditions gradually increased in the cohort.
- Depression: Mental illness arising from senility, showing poor mental ability because of old age and neurosis.
- Depression was observed to increase with age in approximately 8% of older individuals, and it was more prevalent among elderly women than men.
- Less awareness and hindrance in receiving social security schemes: Only 29 % of the elderly benefit from various social security schemes.
- Only 24% of widowed women in BPL households receive benefits from the Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS).
- Around 7 % of elderly women do not have proper documents to avail the benefits of IGNWPS.
- Around 47% of elderly widows believe that they are not eligible to get benefits under IGNWPS.
- Recommendation given by Mohini Giri committee: Women and men age differently. Both have their concerns. Elderly women and their problems need special attention like
- Advancements in medical technology medicine and in technology for assistive living (and technology),
- Mainstream senior citizens, especially older women, bring their concerns into the national development debate with a priority to implement mechanisms already set by governments and supported by civil society and senior citizens associations.
- Promote the concept of “Ageing in Place” or ageing in own home, housing, income security and homecare services, old age pension and access to healthcare insurance schemes and other programmes and services to facilitate and sustain dignity in old age.
- Government must work on increasing awareness about schemes for older persons, bring all Old Age Homes under regulatory purview and focus on facilitating in-situ ageing to the extent possible.
- Government to encourage the creation and running of elderly self-help groups, and stressed the importance of having elderly people live in multigenerational households.
- Government should encourage in situ (at home) ageing as much as possible by creating short-term care facilities like creches or day-care facilities, citing better care when elderly people live with their respective families.
- The enhancement of geriatric care to cater to the unique healthcare needs of seniors.
- A multitude of government schemes and policies addressing the health, financial empowerment, and capacity building needs of the elderly population.
- Community-based organizations actively engaged in digital empowerment through computer and internet usage sessions.
- Ministerial committees dedicated to shaping policies for elderly welfare.
- Corporate efforts for joyful aging, social assistance, old age homes, and elder abuse awareness campaigns.
Addressing these challenges often requires a combination of family support, community resources, healthcare services, and public policy initiatives to ensure that the elderly population can age with dignity and quality of life.