The number of Indians over the age of 60 has hit an all-time high, accounting for 8.6 per cent of the country’s 121-crore population, according to latest official figures.
A report released by the Ministry of Statistics on Thursday said that the number of citizens over the age of 60 jumped 35.5 per cent — from 7.6 crore in 2001 to 10.3 crore in 2011.
This is also a record high since 1950 and is almost twice the rate at which the overall population grew. In the same period — 2001 to 2011 — India’s overall population grew by 17.7 per cent, according to official figures.
“The trend clearly reveals that ageing will emerge as a major social challenge in the future,” said Amarjeet Kaur, Director-General (Central Statistical Office), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
“Population ageing is a global phenomenon. The elderly face a number of problems due to the absence of an assured and sufficient income to support themselves for their healthcare and other social securities. Loss of a social role and recognition, and non-availability of opportunities for creative and effective use of free time are also becoming a matter of great concern for the elderly persons,” said Kaur.
The state with highest percentage of elderly is Kerala, where they make up 12.6 per cent of the population. The state with the least number of elderly is Arunachal Pradesh, with only 4.6 per cent of the population over 60, followed by Meghalaya at 4.7 per cent.
India’s age dependency ratio is also increasing, standing at 14.2 against 10.9 in 2001. Age dependency ratio denotes the ratio of older dependents (people above 64) to the working-age population (those between 15 and 64).
In contrast, ageing economies such as Japan have an age dependency ratio as high as 42 while Belgium has 28.
An ageing society could have implications for any government in terms of higher spending on medical or healthcare and on pensions.
For instance, the Railways — one of India’s top employers — has to foot a huge pension bill with the number of pensioners now at 13.35 lakh. According to a white paper on Railways released in 2015, the outgo on pensions in 2016-17 is projected to be Rs 39,417 crore and expected to rise further to Rs 46,315 crore in 2017-18.
Experts point out that ageing economies face the problem of shrinking resources and increasing expenditure.
“Poor or developing countries can’t afford a social security system. What we should do is ramp up our education system and create job opportunities. We should create an environment where people have jobs and are in a position to save money for their future. In the next few decades, when the per capita income rises, we can be in a position to create a social security fund that will take care of the old,” said Manish Sabharwal, chairman and co-founder of Teamlease Services, a staffing services provider.