Kerala Becoming A Grey State; Should We Really Worry?
The increased life expectancy and lower birth rate will lead to a major crisis as the ageing ratio goes up
‘Population ageing’ is a global phenomenon. Over the time, Countries have been experiencing a growth in the number and proportion of the elderly in their population. Population ageing is a reality that requires an inevitable confrontation because of improved medical care. As life expectancy increases and fertility rates decline, the population of older people (60 years and older) grows faster than the general population.
Kerala is in the advanced stage of demographic transformation and healthcare. Compared to other states in India, Kerala has made significant progress in terms of demographics. Various factors have contributed to this, including lower birth and death rates, higher age of marriage, higher literacy rate and higher health indicators. Kerala is rapidly ageing in terms of population transformation. Known as the most literate state in India, Kerala is now becoming the oldest state with a new title, ‘the grey state’ of India.
In 1961, the proportion of elderly in Kerala was 5.1 per cent, but it was below the national level ratio of 5.6 per cent. Since 1980, Kerala has surpassed other states in India. When their ratio rose to 10.5 per cent in 2001, the all-India average was only 7.5 per cent. According to the 2011 census, it was 12.6 per cent and is expected to rise to 23 per cent by 2036. Currently, 48 lakh people in Kerala are above 60 years of age as on 2018 and 15 per cent of them are above 80 years old. There are more women than men among the elderly in Kerala. Most of them are widows.
According to the 2011 Census, 23% of them are aged between 60-69. 43.06% of women above 70 are widows. It is estimated that approximately every fifth person in the state will become a senior citizen. Kerala’s progress in health indicators, with increased life expectancy and improved healthcare facilities, has led to a steady increase in the proportion of senior citizens in the population.
It is challenging that the increased life expectancy and lower birth rate in Kerala will lead to a major financial crisis as the ageing ratio increases. As retired workers increase, future generations will have to struggle to meet their pension commitments. The government will have to allocate more money and resources to their health care systems to meet the health care demands of the elderly. This will further lead to imposing higher taxes on currently employed people. On account of a very large increase in the dependency ratio, the current cost will increase and place a higher burden on the shrinking working population. A rapidly ageing population may lead to fewer working-age populations in the economy. Such an economy may face adverse consequences like rising in wages leading to inflation.
Adult care in India is highly dependent on the nature of family and domestic support. The problems around them are becoming ubiquitous. First, the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as mental illness and physical disability; Second, the elderly become isolated without physical and mental-emotional support due to social concerns like child migration; Third, the abuse of the elderly’s vulnerabilities and property disputes. Fourth, financial insecurity and inadequate health care lead to further risks. Often, older people feel insecure and isolated, even when living with their own family. This is due to lifestyle changes, generation gaps, nuclear family, lack of financial security, property disputes and independence. As older people live longer, the risk of chronic illness also increases, and as a result, they are forced to hire a home nurse to support their daily activities and requirements.
It is to be noted that, the family structure has changed and the traditional joint family system has collapsed in the present world. The concept of the nuclear family was born out of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. With the advent of the nuclear family, communication gaps between family inmates, the influence of modern technology, peer pressure, and generation gaps emerged. All these have led to the emergence of old age homes in the state. The number of registered old age homes in Kerala is steadily increasing every year. This increase is not only because the children have left their parents, but also the desire of the elderly to live in peace with like-minded people. As of 2018, there are 565 old age homes in Kerala with a capacity of 10,500 people. Of these, 224 old age homes receive government grants.
Retirement housing communities are another emerging phenomenon in Kerala today. After retiring from the service, they wish to start a new life in the 60s with luxury, quality and improved medical care facilities. They move on to a community life where they could enjoy a social life with like-minded people. These communities call for a new way of life that does not compromise their freedom or intrude into their children’s lives.
Those now in their early 30s will work another 30 years and retire at the age of 60. But after 60 years, one needs to prepare oneself in a planned manner for the psychological and financial challenges that one is likely to face in the next 30 years. For their well-being, various systems need to be rebuilt. Their concerns and problems require long-term attention and planning, where policies need to be adopted, considering cultural and social contexts. Health care, socio-economic care and an environment conducive to a better quality of life need to be ensured. Plans need to be put in place to provide reliable and comprehensive care so that their problems are effectively addressed and their survival is not considered a burden to society. As advisors, mentors and active contributors, they play a vital role in the development and economic growth of a country.
(The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, AMU, Aligarh)