Social Work Foot Prints 6 (1)
The life expectancy at birth in India has risen to 66 years over the last nearly thirty years, which is more than a twofold increase since the late 1940s. According to the 2011 Census, the population of persons 60 and above in the country was 103.8 million, which is about 8.6 per cent of the total population. The demographic profile as per the United Nations depicts that in the years 2000-2050, the overall population in India will grow by 55 per cent, whereas the people in the 60 and above age-group will increase by 326 per cent and those in the age-group of 80 plus by 700 per cent.
The massive increase in the elderly population in India poses serious economic, health, political, social, familial and other challenges.
The present book by Professor T.K. Nair titled “Older People in Rural Tamilnadu” is based on a study conducted by him about forty years ago. The original book, published in 1980, has been abridged into a small one for the benefit of researchers and others concerned with ageing, who continue to evince interest in the book. As the late Dr. Malcolm Adiseshaiah stated, the state level study by Prof. Nair is the first of its kind in India and as a benchmark research work, the findings are very relevant.
The book contains seven chapters: introduction, health, family, work, income security. isolation and conclusion. Only about 75 per cent of the elderly in 1975 were ambulatory without difficulty, and 1.69 per cent were bedridden. But now the percentage of the bedridden older persons will be higher. Another significant finding is that only 44 per cent of the elderly could do different personal tasks (bathing, going to toilets, dressing, moving about the house, etc.) without any difficulty. Opinions on self-estimate of health indicate that while 44 per cent said that they were in poor health, only 17 per cent rated their health as good.
Of great importance is the living arrangement of the elderly in the villages. Nearly one in four older women (24 per cent) was found to be living alone. On the whole, 30 per cent of the elderly men and women were either living alone or living with their spouses only. Only one-third of the elderly were living with a married son. A detailed analysis of the rural households showed that only 15 per cent of the families were joint families in Tamilnadu villages even four decades ago. An interesting question is the preference of the living arrangement in old age by the older persons. Only 23 per cent prefer living with a married son, whereas 32 per cent prefer to live alone or to live with their spouses by themselves.
Nearly 60 per cent men and about 30 per cent women continued to work in their old age. More than a half of the elderly women (52 per cent) had no income of their own. They were widows or the divorced or the never married. Among older men in similar marital categories, 35 per cent had no income. However, the elderly couples without any income were fewer: only 13 per cent. Nearly three-fourths of the older persons reported that they were always or often lonely. Older women experiencing loneliness are far in excess (80 per cent) of lonely older men (69 per cent). In old age, a perceptible decline in community roles was observed in the Tamilnadu villages even forty years ago. Only 18 per cent of the elderly reported that they were approached for any advice by villagers. Further, only ten per cent were members of village panchayats.
The draft National Policy on Senior Citizens, submitted to the government in 2011 by a committee of which I was a member, states as follows:
Rural Poor Need Special Attention
Many households in the rural areas at the bottom of the income distribution in India are too poor to save for their old age. Available resources are used to meet daily consumption needs. The poverty in rural areas for older persons is increasing and needs attention. Hence rural poor would need social security in large measure.
An important feature of the book is the research methodology section which explains the selection of a large representative sample of 1,598 older men and women from 200 villages in Tamilnadu chosen using the probability sampling method. Researchers will also have the benefit of the data collection experiences faced by the research team which are recorded in detail in the book. This book is a very valuable addition to the gerontological literature.
Dr. K.R. Gangadharan
Past President, International Federation on Ageing
Chairman, Heritage Foundation and Heritage Health Care