Mains Article

Elderly people: Challenges and Suggestions [Mains Articles]

Declining fertility and increasing longevity lead to rising numbers of older persons. However, it is a matter of concern that while the demands of India’s youthful population are not yet met, and when there is insufficient capacity, how will the needs of increasing numbers of elderly persons be provided for?
By IT's Mains Articles Team
December 12, 2019


  • Context
  • Population of elderly people
  • How can India utilize the potential of elderly people?
  • Challenges in responding to population ageing
  • Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health
  • Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA)
  • Suggestions
  • Conclusion

Elderly people: Challenges and Suggestions  

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  • India’s progress in improving the lives of its citizens can be seen in a single statistic, namely, the increase in life expectancy at birth. In 1950-55, life expectancy at birth in India was 36.6 years, whereas in 2017, it was 69 years.
  • The improvement in life expectancy is a result of reduction in poverty and improvement in healthcare and general social conditions.

Population of elderly people

In India

  • Currently, India has 87,149 thousand elderly people (65 years or over). This is equivalent to 6.4% of total population.
  • India’s old-age dependency ratio (OADR) is 11. OADR is defined as the number of old-age dependents (65 years or over) per 100 persons of working age (20 to 64 years).
  • In 1980, children (aged 0-14 years) were 39.2% of India’s population and the elderly (over 60 years) were 5.9%. By 2030, children will be 23.9% and the elderly will increase to 12.5%, i.e. 190 million people.
  • India will have 330 million elderly people (19.4% of the population) by 2050.
  • Between 2000 and 2050 the overall population of India is anticipated to grow by 60 % whereas population of people of age 60 years and above would shoot by 360 %.

In world

In worldToday, older people account for more than one fifth of the population in 17 countries.

  • Globally, the share of the population aged 65 years or over increased from 6 % in 1990 to 9 % in 2019.
  • Throughout most of the world, survival beyond age 65 is improving. Women currently outlive men by 4.8 years, but this global gender gap is expected to narrow soon.

How can India utilize the potential of elderly people?

  • They should be integrated into the lives of communities where they can make a substantial contribution to improving social conditions.
  • Elders have experience and wisdom that communities can benefit from. Rather than isolating them and making them dependent on others’ charity for their own survival, the integration of elders can help communities to survive and to thrive.
  • They can provide cohesion with tradition, bringing together conflicting movements for ‘special causes’.

Example of Vietnam

  • In Vietnam, Old People’s Associations (OPAs) are improving the lives of the elderly. Out of 90 million people, 8.5 million are members of OPAs in their village and town communities. The associations are run by the elderly in the communities.
  • They set their own agendas, choose what community causes to apply themselves to, which elderly persons need special assistance and assign responsibilities among themselves. They represent the needs of the community and the elderly to government agencies.
  • Youth volunteers support the OPAs. A great benefit of these ‘inter-generational self-help groups’ is the social capital they accumulate and the cohesion they enable within communities.

Challenges in responding to population ageing

Diversity in older age

  • There is no ‘typical’ older person. Some 80 year-olds have physical and mental capacities similar to many 20 year-olds. Other people experience significant declines in physical and mental capacities at much younger ages.

Health inequities

  • The diversity seen in older age is not random. A large part arises from people’s physical and social environments. The relationship of elderly people with environments is skewed by personal characteristics such as the family in one is born, leading to inequalities in health.

Outdated and ageist stereotypes

  • Older people are often assumed to be frail or dependent, and a burden to society.

A rapidly changing world

  • Globalization, technological developments and changing gender norms are influencing the lives of older people. For example, although the number of surviving generations in a family has increased, today these generations are more likely than in the past to live separately.

Challenges faced by elderly women

By 2050, women over 60 years would exceed the number of elderly men by 18.4 million, which would result in feminisation of the elderly population in India as is being experienced in many provinces of China.


  • Social traditions inhibit women from re-marrying, resulting in an increased likelihood of women ending up alone (After 80 years and above, 71 % of women are widow while only 29 % of men lost their spouse).
  • Social bias towards elderly women often results in unjust allocation of resources, neglect, abuse, exploitation, gender-based violence, lack of access to basic services and prevention of ownership of assets.
  • Ageing women are more likely to get excluded from social security schemes due to lower literacy and awareness levels.
  • Elderly women living in metropolitan cities are more likely to feel socially alienated than their rural counterparts.
  • Busy in taking care of ill spouse, lack of awareness, nutritional deficiencies or simply neglect are some of the reasons that often take an adverse toll on their health.

Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health

In 2016, World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health (2016 – 2020).

The Strategy has two goals:

  • 5 years of evidence-based action to maximize functional ability that reaches every person; and
  • By 2020, establish evidence and partnerships necessary to support a Decade of Healthy Ageing from 2020 to 2030.

Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA)

MIPAA, adopted in 2002, is an action plan for handling the issue of ageing in the 21st-century. It focuses on three priority areas:

  • Older persons and development;
  • Advancing health and well-being into old age;
  • Ensuring enabling and supportive environments.

MIPAA is the first global agreement which commits governments to linking questions of ageing to other frameworks for social and economic development and human rights.

Endorsed by 159 governments (including India), the MIPAA is not legally binding and its implementation is voluntary.


Integration at the policy level

  • Gender and social concerns of elderly must be integrated at the policy level. The elderly, especially women, should be represented in decision making.

Aligning health systems with the needs of older populations

  • Better Health systems for older people’s needs, designed to enhance older people’s intrinsic capacity.

Developing systems for providing long-term care

  • Systems of long-term care are needed to meet the needs of older people. This requires developing governance systems, infrastructure and workforce capacity.

Creating age-friendly environments

  • This will require actions to combat ageism, enable autonomy and support Healthy Ageing.


  • Renewed efforts should be made for raising widespread awareness and access to social security schemes such as National Old Age Pension and Widow Pension Scheme.

Key Facts

  • In 2018, for the first time in history, persons aged 65 or above outnumbered children under five years of age.


The elderly are the fastest growing, underutilized resource that humanity has to address many other problems. Sadly, in transaction-driven market economies, where activities must have a monetary value to be ‘valuable’, the contributions of the elderly to society are not valued.

The solution is to see the elderly as a blessing, not a burden. Hence, Forward-looking policies that take into account current and future population dynamics are needed to achieve 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including to fulfil the pledge to leave no one behind.


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