One in every five Indians will be classified as elderly by 2050

Several states continue to experience high fertility rates due to limited access to education, healthcare, and entrenched cultural norms

The UN Population Fund estimates that India's elderly population will touch 192 million by 2030 (photo: DW)
The UN Population Fund estimates that India's elderly population will touch 192 million by 2030 (photo: DW)

Aditya Anand

A new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) has sent ripples through India, warning of a profound demographic shift to transform the nation in the coming decades.

According to the 'India Ageing Report 2023', released on Wednesday, the country's elderly population, individuals aged 60 and above, will double by 2050, rising from 10.5 per cent of the population in July 2022 to a staggering 20.8 per cent in 2050, totalling 347 million individuals. This projection signals that people above 60 will eventually surpass the number of children aged zero to 14.

These numbers carry special significance for states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which have lagged behind in the demographic transition. These states continue to experience high fertility rates owing to limited access to education, healthcare, and entrenched cultural norms. As a result, they maintain a larger proportion of their population in younger age groups, placing immense pressure on resources like education, healthcare, and employment opportunities.

In 2022, India was already home to 149 million people aged 60 and above, constituting approximately 10.5 per cent of the population. However, the report predicts that by 2050 this share will double to 20.8 per cent, totalling a staggering 347 million elderly individuals. By 2050, one in every five Indians will be classified as elderly.

While this trend is evident nationwide, regional disparities exist. States in the southern region and select northern states like Himachal Pradesh and Punjab have reported a higher share of elderly populations than the national average in 2021, and this gap is expected to widen by 2036.

However, the report also highlights the specific challenges facing states with higher fertility rates and slower demographic transitions, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These states, despite experiencing an increase in the share of elderly populations between 2021 and 2036, are expected to lag behind the Indian average in this regard.

Income insecurity is a significant concern, especially among the elderly, as many older individuals are not part of the formal economy, leading to financial vulnerability and increased dependence on family support. This could result in significant financial pressure for families in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where economic opportunities may be limited.

“Healthcare also poses a considerable concern, as ageing is often associated with chronic health conditions and declining physical capacity. In states with limited healthcare infrastructure, like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, addressing the healthcare needs of an ageing population becomes a critical challenge,” observers said.

The report underscores a gender dimension to India's ageing population, as it predicts that women will generally outlive men. This disparity is expected to be more pronounced in rural areas, and as a result, a larger number of elderly individuals will be female.

The report also provides insight into life expectancy, indicating that, on average, a 60-year-old man in India can expect to live another 18.3 years. In comparison, women of the same age can anticipate living 19 years. However, this varies across different states due to varying life expectancies.

“The global perspective is equally significant, as the report highlights a global increase in the elderly population due to factors like increasing life expectancy and declining fertility rates. The report emphasises that this demographic shift will impact all countries, resulting in a higher share and number of older individuals worldwide in the coming years,” experts said.

As India's demographic landscape is rapidly evolving, with vast implications, the report points out that policymakers, healthcare providers, and society must adapt to ensure the well-being and inclusion of the elderly population. “While the challenges are substantial, they also present opportunities for innovation, social support systems, and intergenerational collaboration. As India marches into an era of demographic transformation, navigating this change will be crucial for its future prosperity and social cohesion,” a professor at the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, said.

The unprecedented rise in the ageing population will hold significant implications for India’s health, economy, and society, making it imperative for the government and relevant stakeholders to prepare for the anticipated increase in the number of older persons and have the right policies and programmes for the well-being of the current and future older generations as a top priority.

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