India is ageing. The country might be banking on its demographic dividend because of its record number of the young, but the number of elderly (defined as those above 60) is rising rapidly as well – in fact, the share of elderly in the population has been rising steadily since 1961 – from 5.6% in 1961 to 8.6% in 2011. It is estimated that there are more than 103 million elderly persons residing in the country, as per latest released numbers, and a vast majority of them are both sick and financially dependent
With rising dependence comes the possibility of rising abuse.
The new data put out by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation shows that the growth rate of elderly population in the country has been rapidly increasing even as the general population growth has slowed down over the past few decades.
India’s population increased by 17% between 2001-2011 but the number of elderly increased by a whopping 35% during the same period.
The government claims that this could be a result of improved living standards and advancements in healthcare. But, bad news is around the corner.
The report projects that the government will now have to spend more on taking care of the elderly through pensions, healthcare and other forms of support.
The chart above shows the divergence between the growth rate of the elderly population in the country and that of general population. It is to be noted here that India is still a largely young country with the bulk of its population still falling in the 0-30 years old bracket. However, it doesn’t help that the elderly population is increasingly becoming more dependent on the young for basic needs.
“Due to increased longevity of life, pension bills increase,” the report said. “On the other hand, lesser people of working age means lower number of working people leading to lower tax base and lower tax collection. Economy grows slowly as less money is available for spending on things that help economy grow.”
The above chart shows how the old-age dependency ratio has climbed from 10.9% in 1961 to 14.2%. The ratio tracks the number of people above the age of 60 in the population per 100 people falling in the 15-59 age group. The rise in this ratio implies that more and more young people will be hard-pressed to contribute – directly or indirectly – to the welfare of the elderly as a chunk of the population retires.
However, it is not like the elderly of the country can afford to rest. In rural areas, 66% of elderly men and 28% of elderly women were working while the figures were lower in urban areas – 46% of men and 11% of women were working.
Though it sounds like a good thing that the elderly population is productively employed even after the retirement age, the report highlighted that most of them aren’t exactly independent. This includes financial dependence as well. In Kerala, for instance, 42% of the elderly men are completely dependent on others for their financial needs while 81% of elderly women in Assam are dependent on others for their pecuniary requirements.
Nationwide, almost one in three elderly men and 7 out of 10 women are fully dependent on others for money. This also gets reflected in the average monthly expenditure reported by the elderly. In rural areas, more than 50% of the elderly sustain themselves on less than Rs 470 a month while 53% of those in urban areas get by on Rs 915 a month.
This situation becomes much worse when one considers that a large proportion of the elderly living independently had dependents to support. Moreover, three out of 10 elderly reported to be suffering from some kind of ailment. In addition, 25% of those above the age 80+ reported to have limited locomotor ability and were confined to their homes.
This is where the possibility of elderly abuse steps in.
Last year, HelpAge India, a non-governmental organisation working on elderly care, released a 12-city survey which revealed that daughters-in-law and sons are among the most likely abusers of the elderly – not an outsider or a relative.
Young people surveyed by the organisation said that the desire to inherit property or land was the topmost reason behind abuse. In addition, one-third of the respondents said that abuse happens because the elderly require financial assistance.