Look out India! We have an aging population problem.

These days, there is much celebration of India’s demographic dividend. A recent article wrote:

A growing workforce helps the entire Indian economy, giving businesses access to people that are young, educated and physically fit; it also drives down labor costs.

And, indeed, India’s workforce is growing.

There remain some major questions about whether this growing work force will be able to find productive jobs. But, that is not the focus of this article.

The key point is that policy makers are ignoring the fact that India also has a fast-increasing aging population.

By ‘aging population’, my focus is on people 80 years and older, though I will also discuss issues related to people 60–80 years old.

Let’s look at the history, the current situation and the future.

1950 Population Shares for Various Age Groups. India

In 1950, the percentage share of people 80+ years in India’s population was close to zero. This is not surprising. India’s life expectancy at this time was around 38 years.

Move to 2016. Now there is a measurable percentage of people who are 80+ years old. No surprise, again. Life expectancy has increased to 67 years. In fact, there is even a measurable share of people who are 90–94 years old. What was the case for 80–84 years old in 1950 is now the case for 95–99 year olds.

2016 Population Shares of Various Age Groups. India

Now, let’s look at 2030. Usually, it is difficult to forecast anything 14 years ahead with a high degree of certainty. But, this is not the case for the population shares. Barring some unforeseen extreme event, it is possible to forecast the population shares for 2030 with a high degree of confidence.

Life expectancy is forecast to increase to 69 years. And, the population shares of 80+ people will be higher than it is now.

2030 Forecast Population Shares of Various Age Groups. India

How will these older people thrive? Have we developed social and economic policies aimed at this age group? Yes, there are some benefits for senior citizens, but they are not aimed at this group. Are our roads and our public places suitable for their needs? For that matter, have our homes been designed with their frailty in mind?

One answer may be: Does not matter. Their children will look after them. That’s our culture.

May be not. Remember, Indian society has no experience of a large number of people of this age. Even in 1950, we did not have people who were themselves nearly 60+ years old looking after their parents who were 80+ years old! And, before that, when life expectancy was lower, there were even fewer older parents.

And, there are clear warning signs.

An editorial Parents get some relief in the New Indian Express (December 2016) stated:

All family systems are good provided there is mutual love and respect between children and their parents. Problems arise when there are no bonds of love between them. In the instant case, the son tried to eject the parents from the house the latter built. This is not an isolated case. There are umpteen cases of children forcing their aged parents to sign away their property, and thereafter, dumping them in places like the Kumbh. Those who are dumped in old age homes consider themselves lucky.

NDTV in article titled Most Elderly Persons Are Subject To Abuse In Old Age, Reveals Study (June 2016) stated:

9 per cent of those surveyed said they had been physically harassed or assaulted, while 13 per cent said they were denied basic needs, another 13 per cent quoted mental torture and 20 per cent elders surveyed cited restrictions on their social life. Misbehaviour and ill-treatment were cited by 37 per cent while 8 per cent cited other forms of harassment.
Denial of food, medicines, emotional blackmailing, threatening, shouting, abusing and beating besides more severe cases such as being tied up in case of disability are some of the various forms of abuse.

An article entitled Neglect and abuse: The reality of India’s elderly people in the Hindustan Times in 2015 stated:

Little illustrates {elder abuse] with more poignancy and immediacy than a recent 12-city study by Helpage India. Its stunning finding is that every second elderly person who its researchers spoke to testified to suffering abuse within their families.

An article titled Elders abuse in India witnesses drastic rise in the Hindu (2014) had this figure:

Let’s move to 60–80 year olds. Most of them are retired. But, some of them are physically and mentally capable of contributing to society — and perhaps to the economy. Remember, this is also something new in Indian society. The people in this age group in 1950 were not in the same shape as their counterparts now.

Have we developed any channels to utilize their skills and abilities? Surely not enough.

So, what do we do? I don’t claim to have full answers. But, if there is enough interest, I will write a second article with some suggestions.