Human Development

Managing India’s demographic transition

  • Blog Post Date 03 July, 2024
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Farzana Afridi

Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi Centre

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Sonalde Desai

University of Maryland

India’s population is expected to peak at about 1.7 billion in 2064, and while the current median age is only 28, the share of Indians aged 65 and above will go from 7% to 20% in the next 40 years or so. Has India been able to take advantage of its demographic dividend of a large working-age population, and is the country prepared for the upcoming transition from a young to an ageing population?

In a new edition of I4I conversations, Farzana Afridi (Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi) and Sonalde Desai (University of Maryland & National Council of Applied Economic Research) discuss the challenges associated with India’s demographic dividend. They emphasise the need to tap into the full workforce, including women, as well as ensuring that workers are productive. They also analyse the issue of ageing both from the perspective of society and family. A larger population of elderly would be dependent on a shrinking base of workers, and with increasing life expectancy, the elderly would need care for longer. At the societal level, policy solutions could include raising the retirement age, and investing in social security – but these would have to be accompanied by cultural changes, such as rethinking inheritance laws to enable parents to monetise their assets and moving away from parents’ greater reliance on sons. 

Foraying into regional imbalances, the speakers note that future workers are going to come from states that are lagging behind in demographic transition and hence, these should be thought of as areas requiring investments in education and skills to achieve economic growth for the nation as a whole. They concede that migration is a fact, but society has not been able to adapt well to it. Policy can help facilite migrants’ integration in ‘destination’ locations through initiatives like portability of access to public services and creating more opportunities in their places of origin. They also note that women migrating for children’s education, and ‘commuter migration’ enabled by good public infrastructure, are emerging as key trends. 

Turning to female labour force participation, Prof Desai taps into her experience to recommend framing survey questions in a way that reduces reliance on interviewers, in order to enhance the quality of measurement. While educated women are now valued more by families, mainly from the angle of children’s human capital development, there is a need to expand this acceptance to working wives and mothers. The speakers deliberate upon measures that can increase women’s work participation – for instance, creating a critical mass of female workers in ‘non-conventional’ occupations like taxi-driving. 

The conversation closes with a discussion on data reliability more broadly, noting the importance of investing in robust statistical systems, while also figuring out how to work with people from whom data are collected to understand their contexts and frames of reference.

Also available as a video.

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