How a young India is rapidly ageing

By Nabeela Khan Inayati

Published on 22, December, 2017

India is known to have the world’s largest youth population but the latest data from the government of India shows that the share of the elderly population in India is increasing.  

According to SRS bulletin, there are 75% households with an elderly member (aged 60 or above). Overall, there are 103 million aged 60+ according to population census 2011, SRS Report 2013. Both the share and size of elderly population is increasing. 

This share is increasing also because of improvement in life expectancy and low fertility rates. India’s total fertility rate has decreased from 2.7 in 2013 to 2.2 in 2016. Life expectancy in India has increased in rural areas from 48 years in 1970-75 to 66.3 years in 2009- 13, while in urban areas it has increased from 58.9 years to 71.2 years according to census data. 

A TFR (total fertility rate) of 2.1 is considered to be the replacement level - the rate at which the population will stabilise, and when the rate dips below this number, the population would decline. However, India is already at 2.2 with eleven states having a TFR of less than 2.1.  What’s worrying is that urban India’s fertility rate according to NHFS-4 is just 1.8.  This highlights that India will soon have more old people than young people.

States with TFR less than 2.1 

These states have fertility rates lower than most of the developed nations of the world. 

States with low fertility rates are ageing faster because fewer children are being born. According to data from the 2011 Census, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab have the oldest populations among all states. They also have some of the lowest fertility rates in the country (only Sikkim has a lower rate). This shows how states with fertility rates lower than 2.1 tend to have more elderly people among their populations.  

“The older population will continue to increase dramatically over the next four decades and India will experience rapid growth among this age group. This dynamic age structure stem from the combined effect of increasing life expectancy and declining fertility”, explains Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of Population Foundation of India. 

Similarly, old-age dependency ratio has climbed high from 10.9% in 1961 to 14.2% in 2011 according to census 2011. 

But some elderly continue to work and a high number of men in rural India continue to be a part of workforce without depending upon anyone. Total 66% of elderly men and 28% of elderly women work in rural India, while in urban areas only 46% of elderly men and about 11% of elderly women continue to work.

In India, health care policies focus more upon new-borns and young population because of the high infant mortality rates and under-5 deaths. But a lack of care for the elderly is worrisome and a dearth of policies adds more to the problem. Also, Indians grow old but they do not insure themselves against health expenses.

According to a UN report two-thirds of India's 100 million people over 60 suffered a chronic ailment in 2011. The number is expected to increase to more than 200 million by 2050.