India is set to witness a sharp slowdown in population growth over the next two decades, the Economic Survey stated on Thursday and suggested raising retirement age and merging schools as there would be less children.
The total fertility rate, which is a measure of how many children an average woman of reproductive age is likely to have in her lifetime, will dip below the replacement 2.1 by 2021.
The survey pointed out that though the country as a whole will enjoy the “demographic dividend” phase, some states will start transitioning to an ageing society by the 2030s. In preparation for this, it called advancement of the “retirement age” inevitable, highlighted the need for rationalisation of schools and also pointed out that unless serious measures are taken, India is unlikely to have adequate hospital beds to take care of the changing health needs.
Emphasising the need to plan for all sectors keeping the changing population dynamics in mind, the survey pointed out that though the government — both Centre and state — spending on health as a percentage of the GDP has gone up from 1.2 in 2014-15 to 1.5, there is much that remains to be done. Despite the population growth slowdown, the absolute numbers will go up and, therefore, existing infrastructure such as the number of hospital beds will continue to get stretched — a particularly important aspect given the ageing population.
“If India’s hospital facilities remain at current levels, rising population over the next two decades (even with slowing population growth rates) will sharply reduce the per capita availability of hospital beds in India across all major states…States with high population growth are also the ones with the lowest per capita availability of hospital beds,” the survey said. It showed that the number of hospital beds per 1 million population will dip sharply from the 490-odd in 2016 to 425 in 2041.
On the other hand, it said, the demand for schools could see a downswing. “The proportion of elementary school-going children, i.e. 5-14 age group, will witness significant declines. Contrary to popular perception, many states need to pay greater attention to consolidating/merging schools to make them viable rather than building new ones,” the survey pointed out.
Dwelling on how countries like Germany, UK and US have embarked on the road to increase retirement age and consequently the age at which a person is eligible for a pension, it called for reforms well in time to prepare for the changing demography.
“Given that life expectancy for both males and females in India is likely to continue rising, increasing the retirement age for both men and women going forward could be considered in line with the experience of other countries. This will be key to the viability of pension systems and would also help increase female labour force participation in the older age-groups. Since an increase in the retirement age is perhaps inevitable, it may be worthwhile signalling this change well in advance — perhaps a decade before the anticipated shift — so that the workforce can be prepared for it. This will also help plan in advance for pensions and other retirement provisions,” the survey said.