Elderly Population in India: Issues and Challenges | UPSC


  • The phenomenon of population ageing is becoming a major concern for the policy makers all over the world, both for developed and developing countries. Our country too is not immune to this demographic change. The changing demographic profile has thrown many new challenges in the social, economic and political domains.
  • The rapid socio-economic transformation has affected various aspects of Society. Industrialisation, urbanisation and migration of population have brought the concept of nuclear family, as a result of which a section of the family, primarily the elders, are confronting the problems of financial and physical support.
  • Hence, there is an emerging need to pay greater attention to ageing-related issues and to promote holistic policies and programmes for dealing with ageing society. There is also a need to relook at the roles and responsibilities at individual level, at family level and at the level of society at large.

Profile of Elderly Persons in India

  • According to Population Census 2011 there are nearly 104 million elderly persons (aged 60 years or above) in India; 53 million females and 51 million males.
  • Both the share and size of elderly population is increasing over time. From 5.6%in 1961 the proportion has increased to 8.6% in 2011.
  • As regards rural and urban areas, 71% of elderly population resides in rural areas while 29 % is in urban areas.
  • The old-age dependency ratio climbed from 10.9% in 1961 to 14.2% in 2011 forIndia as a whole. For females and males, the value of the ratio was 14.9% and 13.6% in 2011.
  • The percentage of the senior citizens in India’s population has been growing at an increasing rate in recent years and the trend is likely to
    • According to a 2017 report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), around 12.5% of India’s population will be 60 years and older by 2030.
    • The share of older persons, those aged 60 years or above, in India’s population is projected to increase to nearly 20 per cent in 2050.

Profile of Elderly Persons in India

Need for taking care of the Elderly Population in India

  • Taking care of the elderly population in India is an increasingly pressing issue as the country experiences demographic shifts due to improved healthcare and increased life expectancy.
  • With a large proportion of its population expected to be elderly in the coming decades, it becomes imperative to address their needs and ensure their well-being.
  • In this context, examining the need for taking care of the elderly population in India involves considering various factors ranging from social, economic, cultural, and healthcare perspectives.

a) Demographic Shifts

  • India is experiencing a demographic transition characterized by a declining birth rate and increasing life expectancy.
  • According to projections, by 2050, India’s elderly population (aged 60 years and above) is expected to reach around 319 million, comprising nearly 20% of the total population.
  • This demographic shift poses significant challenges in providing adequate care and support to the elderly.

b) Changing Family Structures

  • Traditionally, Indian families have been characterized by strong familial ties and multi-generational households where elders are respected and cared for by their children and grandchildren.
  • However, with urbanization, migration, and changing socio-economic dynamics, nuclear families are becoming more prevalent, leading to a breakdown of traditional support systems for the elderly.
  • As a result, many elderly individuals find themselves without adequate familial care and support.

c) Social Isolation and Loneliness

  • The elderly population in India often faces social isolation and loneliness, particularly those living alone or in institutions.
  • Factors such as loss of spouse, children migrating for work, and changing social norms contribute to feelings of isolation among the elderly.
  • Social isolation not only affects their mental health but also increases their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.

d) Health and Healthcare Needs

  • Old age is often accompanied by an increased prevalence of chronic diseases, disabilities, and cognitive impairments, requiring specialized healthcare services and long-term care.
  • However, the healthcare infrastructure in India is often inadequate to meet the specific needs of the elderly population.
  • There is a lack of geriatric care facilities, trained healthcare professionals, and affordable healthcare services tailored to the needs of the elderly.

e) Financial Security

  • Many elderly individuals in India lack adequate financial security, especially those who have retired from low-income occupations or have not made sufficient savings for their retirement.
  • Without a reliable source of income, they struggle to meet their basic needs such as healthcare, nutrition, and shelter.
  • Moreover, the absence of social security mechanisms exacerbates their financial vulnerability.

f) Elder Abuse and Neglect

  • Elder abuse, including physical, emotional, financial, and neglect, is a pervasive but often underreported issue in India.
  • Elderly individuals, particularly women, are vulnerable to exploitation by family members, caregivers, or others in positions of trust.
  • Lack of awareness, social stigma, and inadequate legal protection contribute to the perpetuation of elder abuse.

g) Preserving Traditional Knowledge and Wisdom

  • The elderly population in India possesses a wealth of traditional knowledge, wisdom, and cultural heritage accumulated over generations.
  • Preserving and honoring this cultural capital is essential for the continuity of Indian traditions and values.
  • Providing opportunities for the elderly to actively participate in community life, share their experiences, and pass on their knowledge to younger generations is crucial for maintaining social cohesion and cultural identity.

Challenges Faced by Elderly Population in India

  • The challenges faced by the elderly population in India are multifaceted and encompass various aspects of their lives.
  • These challenges arise from a combination of demographic, socio-economic, cultural, and healthcare factors. Here are some of the key challenges:

a) Health Issues:

  • Many elderly individuals in India suffer from chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Age-related ailments, disabilities, and cognitive impairments further compound their health challenges.
  • Access to affordable healthcare services, medications, and specialized geriatric care is often limited, particularly in rural areas.

b) Financial Insecurity:

  • A significant portion of the elderly population in India lacks financial security, especially those who have retired from low-income occupations or have not made sufficient savings for their retirement.
  • Limited access to pensions, social security benefits, and inadequate savings leave them vulnerable to poverty and unable to afford essential needs such as healthcare, nutrition, and shelter.

c) Social Isolation and Loneliness:

  • Social isolation and loneliness are prevalent among the elderly population, particularly those living alone or in institutional settings.
  • Factors such as loss of spouse, children migrating for work, and changing family structures contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Lack of social support networks and opportunities for social engagement exacerbate this issue.

d) Elder Abuse and Neglect:

  • Elder abuse, including physical, emotional, financial, and neglect, is a significant but often underreported problem in India.
  • Elderly individuals, especially women, are vulnerable to exploitation by family members, caregivers, or others in positions of trust.
  • Lack of awareness, social stigma, and inadequate legal protection contribute to the perpetuation of elder abuse.

e) Limited Access to Social Welfare Programs:

  • Despite various social welfare programs and schemes aimed at supporting the elderly in India, many elderly individuals face challenges in accessing these benefits due to bureaucratic hurdles, lack of awareness, and eligibility criteria.
  • This results in a significant portion of the elderly population being excluded from essential social safety nets.

f) Ageism and Discrimination:

  • Ageism, or discrimination based on age, is a pervasive issue in Indian society. Elderly individuals often face stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination in various spheres of life, including employment, healthcare, and social interactions.
  • Age-based discrimination undermines their dignity, autonomy, and opportunities for active participation in society.

g) Inadequate Infrastructure and Services:

  • The infrastructure and services catering to the needs of the elderly population in India are often inadequate and underdeveloped.
  • There is a shortage of geriatric care facilities, trained healthcare professionals, accessible transportation, elder-friendly public spaces, and community support services.
  • This lack of infrastructure hampers the ability to provide comprehensive care and support to the elderly.

h) Digital Divide:

  • With the increasing digitization of services and communication, many elderly individuals face challenges in accessing and utilizing digital technologies.
  • Limited digital literacy, lack of access to smartphones or computers, and difficulty navigating online platforms pose barriers to accessing information, healthcare services, and social connections.

Policy Response to Ageing in India

  • Fulfilling needs for services and social protection for senior citizens, protection of their rights and enabling them to contribute in the development process are priorities for India.
  • The Indian government’s commitment to population ageing concerns is evident in two important ways:
      • being a signatory to all the global conferences, initiatives on ageing as well as the Regional Plans of Action; and
      • formulation of the National Policy onOlder Persons (NPOP) in 1999, well ahead of MadridInternational Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA), the United Nation (UN) sponsored International Plan ofAction.
  • The National Social Assistance Programme for the poor is also an outcome of the Directive Principles Of our Constitution (Articles 41–42) recognizing concurrent responsibility of the central and state governments in this regard.
  • India’s national response can be seen as evolving along with many multilateral initiatives under the aegis of the UN which spearheaded global attention while encouraging country action to address ageing concerns.

a) Legal backings

  • Article 41 and Article 46 are the constitutional provisions for elderly persons. Although directive principles are not enforceable under the law, it creates a positive obligation towards the state while making any law.
  • Section 20 of Hindu Marriage and Adoption Act, 1956 makes it obligatory provisions to maintain an aged parents.
  • Under Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, the elderly parents can claim maintenance from their children.
  • The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, seeks to make it legal for the children or heirs to maintain their parents or senior citizens of the family.

b) Initiatives taken by the Government

  • Recently, the Government of India has taken a lot of policy measures for welfare of the elderly population.

i) Integrated Programme for Older Persons (IPOP)

  • The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is a nodal agency for the welfare of elderly people.
  • The main objective of the scheme is to improve the quality of life of older persons by providing basic amenities like shelter, food, medical care and entertainment opportunities, etc.

ii) Rashtriya Vayoshri Yojana (RVY)

  • This scheme is run by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. This is a central sector scheme funded from the Senior Citizens’ Welfare Fund. The fund was notified in the year 2016.
  • Under the RVY scheme, aids and assistive living devices are provided to senior citizens belonging to BPL category who suffer from age-related disabilities such as low vision, hearing impairment, loss of teeth and locomotor disabilities.
  • The scheme is being implemented by Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO), which is a public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

iii) Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana (VPBY)

  • This scheme is run by the Ministry of Finance. The Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana (VPBY) was first launched in 2003 and then relaunched in 2014.
  • Both are social security schemes for senior citizens intended to give an assured minimum pension on a guaranteed minimum return on the subscription amount.

iv) Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana

  • The Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana (PNVVY) was launched in May 2017 to provide social security during old age. This is a simplified version of the VPBY and will be implemented by the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India.

v) Vayoshreshtha Samman

  • Conferred as a National award, and given to eminent senior citizens & institutions under various categories for their contributions on International day of Older Persons on 1st

vi) Senior Citizen’s Jeevan Praman Life Certificate Alert on Email, SMS

  • To ensure that no pensioners are left out, the government as directed all Pension Disbursing Banks to make an exception list as on 1st December every year of those pensioners who fail to submit their Life Certificate and issue another SMS/Email to them for submitting the Life Certificate.
  • The bank will also ask such pensioners through SMS/Email as to whether they are interested in submission of Life Certificate through a nominal chargeable doorstep service.

Conclusion and the way forward

  • Moving forward, addressing the challenges faced by the elderly population in India requires a comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach. Here are some key strategies and actions that can be taken:

a) Strengthen Healthcare Infrastructure:

  • Invest in the development of geriatric healthcare facilities, training programs for healthcare professionals in geriatric care, and specialized services for age-related ailments and disabilities.
  • Ensure affordable and accessible healthcare services tailored to the needs of the elderly, particularly in rural and underserved areas.

b) Enhance Social Security and Financial Inclusion:

  • Expand social security schemes and pension programs to cover a broader segment of the elderly population.
  • Promote financial literacy and inclusion initiatives to empower elderly individuals to manage their finances effectively and access financial services such as savings, insurance, and credit.

c) Foster Social Support Networks:

  • Encourage the formation of community-based support networks, senior citizen associations, and peer support groups to provide companionship, emotional support, and assistance with daily activities.
  • Promote intergenerational bonding and volunteering initiatives to foster solidarity and mutual assistance between different age groups.

d) Combat Elder Abuse and Ageism:

  • Raise awareness about elder abuse, its forms, and available support services through education campaigns, helplines, and outreach programs.
  • Enforce strict legal measures to protect the rights and dignity of the elderly and hold perpetrators of elder abuse accountable.
  • Challenge ageist attitudes and stereotypes through advocacy, media representation, and intergenerational dialogue.

e) Develop Age-Friendly Infrastructure:

  • Design urban and rural environments that are accessible, safe, and conducive to the needs of elderly individuals.
  • Ensure barrier-free transportation, pedestrian-friendly pathways, age-friendly housing options, and public spaces equipped with amenities such as seating, restrooms, and lighting.
  • Incorporate universal design principles in infrastructure planning to accommodate diverse age groups and abilities.

f) Promote Digital Inclusion:

  • Bridge the digital divide by providing digital literacy training and access to technology resources for elderly individuals.
  • Develop user-friendly digital platforms and applications for accessing healthcare services, social connectivity, financial transactions, and information dissemination.
  • Promote intergenerational learning and collaboration to facilitate the transfer of digital skills across age groups.

g) Integrate Geriatric Care into Primary Healthcare:

  • Integrate geriatric assessment, preventive care, and management of chronic conditions into primary healthcare services.
  • Train primary care providers in geriatric medicine and encourage regular health screenings and preventive interventions for elderly patients.
  • Facilitate home-based care services and telemedicine consultations to reach elderly individuals in remote areas.

h) Empower and Engage Elderly Individuals:

  • Empower elderly individuals to actively participate in decision-making processes, community activities, and advocacy efforts related to aging issues.
  • Recognize and celebrate their contributions to society, culture, and economy through platforms such as senior citizen awards, cultural events, and intergenerational projects.
  • Promote lifelong learning opportunities and productive engagement in meaningful activities to enhance their sense of purpose and well-being.

By implementing these strategies and fostering a culture of respect, inclusion, and solidarity towards the elderly, India can create an age-friendly society where every individual can age with dignity, security, and fulfillment. Collaborative efforts from government agencies, civil society organizations, private sector partners, and community stakeholders are essential to realizing this vision of a society that values and supports its elderly population.


Practise Question for Mains:

  • In light of India’s demographic transition, how can policies effectively address the multifaceted challenges faced by the elderly population, encompassing healthcare, social security, and socio-cultural inclusion? (Answer in 250 words)


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