Future of Aging in India (Part 1)

Empowering Healthy Aging

Recently there was an international day for older persons. On this occasion, I have penned down a few thoughts in this two-part article.

Writing about aging in India may appear slightly ahead of its time as India is a young country now. But if one analyses the data, it is very clear that it is not too early to start preparing as a country now.

In this first part, I have focused on the uniqueness of the Indian Aging scenario compared to the developed world. The developed world has started aging much more in advance and theoretically can offer great case studies and ready-made templates. We may learn from their journey but blindly copying their successful solutions are fraught with the risk of failure due to the unique nature of India.

Let us explore how aging in India is likely to be different from aging in the developed world.

1.      Magnitude of the Silver Tsunami in India will be extraordinary

A report Elderly In India 2021 by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Government of India is an eye opener. All of us know that India is a young country but many of us do not know that there will be staggering numbers of elders once we as a nation start aging. Furthermore, a reduction in the fertility rate is likely to increase the share of the elderly population. As per the report mentioned above, the decadal growth rate from 2021 to 2031 of the overall population is going to be over 7% while that of the population of 55+ is expected to grow over 37%, around 5 times that of the overall population.

In absolute terms, India will add over 100 million people to its population over the next decade. Out of which over 70 million will be seniors with 55+ age. This addition itself will be more than the entire population of the UK. The total 55+ population by 2031 will be around 270 million which will be larger than the entire population of Indonesia. It is evident that planning for this eventuality is the need of the hour.

2. Indian seniors will not be as rich:

 Even though the neo-Indian seniors will be richer than their predecessors, based on the current rate of growth of per capita income, India will remain a developing country for the next few years. Indian seniors will have significantly less money to spend either from their own incomes/savings or government support compared to their developed world counterparts.

 This necessitates that any solutions for Indian seniors need to be cost-effective.

3. Indian Seniors will not be a big burden on governments:

Since the role of governments, central or states is relatively small in providing healthcare for above the poverty line population as well as the old age pension, the aging population in India is not likely to be a bigger burden on Governments.

4. Indian Seniors will be on their own (or on family):

 Since the governments play a very small role in providing old age security, the onus will be on individuals or their families to ensure their financial security for day-to-day living and healthcare.

 Funding of unpredictable healthcare expenses will remain one of the major risks as there are very limited mitigation options. Generally, Health Insurance is the default mitigation option but for seniors there are stringent underwriting norms, and higher premiums results in many seniors without insurance coverage.

 In addition, volatility in inflation as well as interest rates, which we have been observing globally lately, also poses a big problem for seniors. Higher inflation will lower their standard of living while lower inflation will result in a lower interest rate and may lower their income. The financial anxiety due to such volatility may add to the stress in case their investments are not planned properly. It may affect their health as well.

5. Indian Seniors will be less lonely:

 Even though Indian seniors will face more social isolation compared to the younger population and their predecessors, they will not be as isolated as their developed world counterparts.

The main reason for this is India’s socio-spiritual structure. India is a country where many religions and subsects are present and thriving. They create a very vibrant and diverse spiritual ecosystem like nowhere in the world. This Ecosystem consisting of regular discourses, rituals, festivals, and social support projects creates a sense of fulfillment as well as acts as a platform for social engagement.  Due to this unique Indian milieu, Indian seniors are socially more connected compared to their developed country counterparts.

6. More Indian seniors will live without a family caregiver but nowhere as near compared to the developed world.

Even though rapid urbanization and migration of children for livelihood opportunities will result in more Indian seniors living alone but in terms of percentages they will be very less compared to the developed world since In India, children living with parents if possible is still a default arrangement while in the developed world the default arrangement is children moving out once they are adults.

7. Indian Seniors are likely to prefer aging in place:

Availability of good quality Senior living homes is growing across geography.  Even though they offer a better quality of life, due to cultural and social reasons, many seniors may still prefer to age in place due to their comfort with their ecosystem, emotional attachment, and resistance to change.

Senior homes too will grow as there will be a significantly large number of seniors who are not rooted hence are willing to embrace change for a better quality of life. That said, selling senior homes to rooted seniors is likely to be a tough sale and the senior home industry may take some time to realize its potential.

8. Indian Seniors are a heterogeneous group:

Indian seniors due to their different cultural, economic, religious, educational, and professional backgrounds are a more heterogeneous group.

 Product and service providers who provide bespoke solutions are more likely to be successful rather than providers with size fits all approach.

9. Neo Seniors in India will be tech-savvy:

 As we see the current population in their 50s entering the Silver Zone, they will bring with them their smartphones and the comfort of using social media platforms. Most of them will have data access in their homes at a much more reasonable cost.

 Their propensity to adopt various technology solutions which are cheaper and provide better outcomes will be very high.  Indian Seniors’ Market will offer a very interesting opportunity for very innovative and home-grown solutions including Age Tech.

The concluding part of this article will deal with some potential solutions. 

Article by Mr. Rajan Mehta
Founder & CEO, Zealver