India's elderly population to double and outnumber children by 2050

The country currently has the world's youngest population but will have to cope with an unprecedented number of elderly people

MANALI, INDIA Ð Aug 11 : One of the old woman in Manali in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. Manali is a famous hill station in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India, near the northern end of the Kullu Valley. Manali is administratively a part of the Kullu district. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Travel *** Local Caption ***  PS29- MANALI.jpg
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More than a fifth of India's population will be aged over 60 by 2050, with the proportion of elderly people doubling in the next 27 years, according to the latest UN population report.

India, which currently has the world’s youngest population, will be home to 347 million elderly people by 2050, the United Nations Population Fund estimated.

The India Ageing Report, released on Wednesday, said the percentage of elderly people is expected to exceed that of children under 15 in the country by 2046.

“This unprecedented rise in the ageing population will have significant implications for health, economy, and society,” it warned.

India surpassed China to become the world’s most populous country earlier this year.

The report used data from the 2011 Census, the 2017-18 Longitudinal Ageing Survey in India (LASI) conducted by the Health Ministry, population projections of the Indian government and the World Population Projection 2022 report.

“There were 149 million persons aged 60 years and above in 2022 (as on 1 July), comprising around 10.5 per cent of the country’s population.

By 2050, the share of older persons will double to 20.8 per cent with the absolute number at 347 million, the report said.

“By that time, the population share of 15–59 years will also see a dip. Undoubtedly, the relatively young India today will turn into a rapidly ageing society in the coming decades.”

It said that the number of people over 60 worldwide is expected to double to 2.1 billion by 2050, with 1.7 billion of those living in less developed regions.

“This increase in the number and share of older persons will be visible across all regions of the world. There are 1.1 billion persons aged 60 years or above in 2022, comprising 13.9 per cent of the total population of 7.9 billion.

“In more developed regions, the share of older persons will increase from 26 per cent in 2022 to 34 per cent in 2050, while in less developed regions, it will increase from 11.5 per cent to 20 per cent during the corresponding period.”

The report is significant as India currently boasts the world's youngest population, with 65 per cent of its people under the age of 35.

But amid a population boom, some Hindu right-wing groups, including leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have attempted to introduce a population control law, arguing the expanding population burdens the country's limited resources.

Demographers have often opposed any coercive methods of birth and population control, saying India’s fertility rate is dropping naturally and any intervention will be disastrous and disrupt the economic benefits of having a young population.

They have also warned that India’s workforce will only remain young for the next three decades.

India’s population increased at a relatively slow rate from 235 million in 1901 to 358 million in 1951, but then accelerated in the second half of the twentieth century, reaching 1.2 billion in 2011.

The country’s fertility rate has already dropped to 2.2 in 2015, according to National Family Health Survey, meaning that on average, an Indian woman is giving birth to two children.

The report underscored concerns that the unprecedented growth in the ageing population will have significant implications for the economy, society and health in the country that already has a crumbling healthcare infrastructure.

More than 40 per cent of the country's elderly are among the poorest quarter of the population, with about 18.7 per cent of them living without an income, the report noted. Such levels of poverty were likely to affect their quality of life and ability to access healthcare, it added.

It also said that women having higher life expectancy and being more likely to be widowed is likely to mean additional resources will be required to provide support and care.

“Aspects of ageing that create significant challenges are women living longer than men resulting in higher levels of widowhood and associated sociocultural and economic deprivations and dependencies.”

It said elderly widowed women were often alone with little support, and also suffered more debilitating health issues.

The UNFPA has called for a special focus on older persons in disaster-preparation plans.

It made a series of suggestions to the government, including increasing awareness about schemes for older people, bringing all homes for the elderly under regulatory purview, and running self-help groups for the elderly.

The report also stressed the importance of elderly people living in multigenerational households.

Updated: September 28, 2023, 10:30 AM