If you are old and single, you are most likely to be a woman living in a rural area. That’s the finding from the recently released Census 2011 data on households with people aged 60 years and above.
A whopping 72.83 per cent of old people who live alone are women. That’s 36.2 lakh old women who live on their own as opposed to 13.5 lakh old men. Of the single old people, 56.29 per cent are women who live in rural areas and 16.53 per cent in urban areas.
“This is not surprising given the life expectancy at older ages. At old age, women live longer than men and most of them are widows. So they have no option but to live alone since children are unwilling to take care of them,” said S Irudaya Rajan, professor at the Centre for Development Studies, Kerala.
The census data also shows that there are over 49 lakh one-member households where the person is aged 60 years and above or 49 lakh elderly people who live alone. Which means, a little less than half, or 47.57 per cent, of the 1.03 crore people who live alone are old. That’s a phenomenal rise from 2001, when only 30 per cent of those who lived alone were aged 60 and above.
According to Prof Rajan, this is partly due to increasing urbanisation and largescale internal migration. “About 400 million people leave their place of birth or residence to live in other areas, leaving the elderly behind. This is what I call the social cost of migration,” he said.
The data also shows that this is no country for the old. More than half the households, or 68.69 per cent of the total 24.88 crore households in the country, do not have anyone aged 60 years and above.
For a nation that is projected to be the world’s youngest country by 2020, that’s a natural corollary but the data provides a window into the evolving societal norms — the breakdown of the joint family system and the emergence of the elderly who either live alone or as a couple.
The data confirms the trend of aged couples living alone, with just each other for company. There are 50.72 lakh such households that make up 21.04 per cent of the total two-member households. The underlying assumption here is that a two-member household with two elderly people would most likely be a couple who live separately from their children.
“This is possible due to the generation gap. With the decline in fertility among the current generation, most young people — both boys and girls — want to live independently, just visiting their parents once in a while and leaving them to fend for themselves,” said Rajan.