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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

‘Population age structure is changing, the share of elderly is increasing’

"The share of elderly population is increasing... moreover, because of the gender differential in life expectancy, the share of females among the elderly is increasing," said Prof Anjali Radkar, head of the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
Updated: July 10, 2021 4:26:30 pm
The family size norm has come down and now family planning has acceptance all over India.

This year, the theme for World Population Day, on July 11, is ‘Rights and Choices are the Answer’. At Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, a renowned research institute that hosts one of the oldest Population Research Centres, Prof Anjali Radkar, head of the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, tells The Indian Express that a small family norm was no longer an issue and while the fertility rate was declining in the country, the concern was about an ageing population.

Ahead of World Population Day, what are your concerns, specially about the ageing group?

The population age structure is changing. The share of elderly population is increasing… moreover, because of the gender differential in life expectancy, the share of females among the elderly is increasing. The concern is also lack of social security.

Has Covid-19 impacted sensibilities on how health systems need to be strengthened?

Absolutely. Strengthening health systems is a must. In public health services, ‘vacant positions’ is a daunting issue. Unless sufficient trained human resources are available, it is difficult to handle Covid-like pandemics. We have seen entire medical and paramedical staff getting exhausted in the two waves of Covid-19. Wherever public-private partnerships are possible, they should be considered on a priority basis. The centre has infrastructure in terms of network, space, reach; but not sufficient trained human resource. The issue is more about availability of trained personnel

Does the declining fertility rate have any consequences?

The family size norm has come down and now family planning has acceptance all over India. However, it is variable in southern and northern India because these two regions are at different levels of demographic transition. Fertility of states in the north also would go down slowly. It has shown the downward trend. Currently, we have a large share of working age population but after a few years they will move towards the elderly group

GIPE has introduced a new MSc course in Population studies and health economics. What is the aim of the course?

GIPE is the best place to start such a course considering its legacy in economics and population research. We have expertise in both population studies and economics. Health economics and health insurance has gained a lot of importance in the recent past and more so prominently during Covid times. Also, the feasibility of government-sponsored insurance schemes needs to be studied. Students of this course will understand the population processes and its impact on health, development and economy. Apart from that, students will also understand the special needs of different population sub-groups like children, adolescents, women, elderly, tribal, urban and slum dwellers.

Your comment on the existing preference for sons in the country and how incentives work?

Preference for a son surfaces as fertility goes down. It becomes more and more visible in that case. That is the reason why it got attention in the past few decades though the preference was always there because of the patriarchal system. This preference will remain for some time. It is expected to go down with development and will even decline with higher literacy among women and their financial independence. Incentives might work for a small subsection but that is not the answer; however, they should be continued. That works at least marginally.

The Centre has discussed punitive action for population control but no such law has been passed. What are your views and do you think it would be counter-productive?

I personally feel that there is no need for such an action. Family size norm is declining for sure. A small family is associated with modernisation and development. Development is the best contraceptive, as it is said. As infant and child mortality has been controlled, people do not require more children. Across India, infant and child mortality has declined significantly. Now, the cost of bearing and rearing a child is also high. So, it is beneficial to have a smaller number of children.

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