Gender, Ageing and Social Security

Abstract:The first part of this paper discusses the emerging profile of the elderly in Kerala for the next fifty years based on certain projections, followed by the micro-analysis of elderly living conditions from the recent migration survey conducted by the Centre for Development Studies. The last section overviews the existing social security program for the elderly. Close to 15 percent of the elderly in Kerala form the creamy layer of senior citizens who are not looking for any assistance from the Kerala government. Even at the age of 80, 10 percent of the elderly continue to work. The paper outlines the fact that if the government can implement all the schemes very seriously and provide assistance to the real needy among the elderly, Kerala can continue to run the social assistance schemes without much financial constraints.

Keywords: elderly in Kerala, dependency (ratio), demographic transition, age pyramid, Gulf migration survey, social assistance, multigenerational society, ageing index

We live in an ageing society. Population ageing is a worldwide phenomenon and has serious social and economic implications for living arrangements, pensions and social support systems. They are directly influenced by the changing age structure. Individuals begin their ageing process at the moment of birth, and go through the life course accumulating a range of experiences that may positively or negatively affect their capabilities and wellbeing in later years.

The increasing presence of older persons in Kerala is making people of all ages more aware that we live in a diverse and multigenerational society. It is no longer possible to ignore ageing, regardless of whether one views it positively or negatively. If current trends in ageing continue as predicted, the proportions of the young and the old will undergo a historic crossover around 2021. (See for details, Figure 1). As Kerala is ahead by 25 years from the rest of the country and is in the final stages of demographic transition (low fertility and mortality), the ageing scenario of Kerala is much more important than any other state in India (Zachariah and Irudaya Rajan (1997). For instance, on an average, a woman in Kerala ends up producing just 1.6 children – below replacement level. A child born in Kerala today is expected to live over 71 years – the female child is expected to live 76 years, six more than her male counterpart. The infant mortality rate in Kerala is also reported very low with 14 per 1000 live births. In absolute numbers, children below 6 years in Kerala population are on the declining trend.

The paper is divided into three parts; the first part discusses the emerging profile of the elderly in Kerala for the next fifty years based on the projections done by the authors, followed by the micro-analysis of elderly living conditions from the recent migration survey conducted by the Centre for Development Studies (Zachariah and Irudaya Rajan, 2004). The last section overviews the existing social security program for the elderly.

Demographic Profile of the Aged

As of 2004, India accommodates 75 million elderly people, second only to China – representing 7.5 percent of the total population. Among them, one fifth live in urban areas and only one-fourth of them are literate. Among elderly women, 54 percent of them are young old (60-69 years), 67 percent of old-old (70-79 years) and 70 percent, of oldest old (80 and above) and are widows (Liebig and Irudaya Rajan 2003). In this context, it is quite interesting to note that the Kerala statistics is entirely different from the country as a whole. According to the first census (1961 census) of Kerala (the state was formed in 1956), the number of the elderly aged 60 and above was just 10 lakh, which increased to 26 lakh in 1991 (a 160 percent increase). According to our estimates, Kerala had 31 lakh elderly representing around 10 percent of the total population in 2001. Their numbers are expected to increase to 53 lakhs in 2021 and 110 lakhs in 2051 and the proportion is likely to reach 30 percent in 2051. Though the Kerala population is growing at less than one percent, the growth of the elderly during 1991-2001 is much higher and the trend is likely to continue for the next few decades.

Similarly, the old-old population was just 10 lakh in 1991. Our projections indicate that the old-old would reach 22 lakh in 2021 and 58 lakh in 2051. During 1961-1991, the growth rate among the old old hovered around 3 per cent, and is expected to register a growth rate of around 4 percent in the coming decades.

The oldest old (aged 80 and above) in Kerala were just 2,90,000 in 1991 and are expected to increase to 7 lakh in 2021 and further to 17 lakh by 2051.The growth rates among the oldest old is higher than the young old and the old old in Kerala over the last 40 years and it is expected to slow down in the coming decades. The age pyramids for Kerala are presented for three years (1961, 2001 and 2051) to indicate the speed of ageing in Kerala. Though the number of the elderly in Kerala is much lower than a few populous states in India, Kerala leads with the highest proportion of the elderly among Indian states and union territories and much more women among the elderly compared to males. As reported, Kerala leads with highest female expectation of life at birth and the gender gap is around 6 years around 2000. At age 60, a Malayali woman is expected to live 21 years against their male counter parts (19 years).

Dependency Ratios
Gerontologists are more concerned with the personal support systems and ‘social convoys’ of older persons since these support systems have important implications for the social, psychological and economic well being of older persons. The need for national measures of social and economic dependency of older persons has partly been fulfilled by demographers through the use of various measures of ‘age dependency’. These measures relate the numbers on various age categories to one another. Some of these serve as measures of dependency of the elderly on their families, particularly their children while others serve as measures of dependency on the society as a whole. The former tend largely to be surrogates for measures of social and psychological support of the elderly whereas the latter tends to be surrogates of economic support.

The ratio of persons aged 60-74 to persons 40-44 years is a type of familial dependency ratio relating the elderly to their middle aged children. The ratio of persons aged 80 and above to persons 60-64 years is type of familial dependency ratio relating the extreme aged to their young old children. The ratio of persons aged 60 and above to persons aged 15-59 is the most common type of societal dependency ratio. The prospective shifts in the age structure of the population suggest that the extent of the problems of familial support for the aged will fluctuate in the future reflecting mainly on the past trends in fertility rates, and that, in general, it will tend to become greater than at present and probably very serious around 2025.

The following ratios presented for Kerala for the periods 1961 to 2051 help us understand its familial and societal dependency ratios (Table 2).

Young Dependency Ratio: The number of persons aged 0-14 per 100 persons of intermediate age (working age 15-59)

Aged Dependency Ratio: The number of persons aged 60 years and above per 100 persons of working age (15-59)

Total Dependency Ratio: The number of persons in the non-working age group (0-14 and 60+) per 100 persons of working age (15-59)

Index of Ageing: The proportion of the population aged sixty and above to the population aged 0-14. It is intended to measure the structure of dependency.

Index of children: The population aged 0-14 per 100 to population aged 60 years and above.

Index of parents to children: The population aged 60-74 per 100 to population aged 40-44.

Index of oldest old to young old: The population aged 80 years above per 100 to population aged 60-64.

The young dependency ratio was 82.7 in 1961, declined to 75.2 in 1971, 61.5 in 1981 and 49.9 in 1991, whereas the aged dependency ratio increased from 11.3 in 1961 to 11.6 in 1971, further to 13.2 in 1981 and 14.4 in 1991 respectively. The increase of the aged dependency ratio was by 3 points whereas the decrease in the child dependency ratio was by 23 points. At the present juncture, households in Kerala have gained in terms of reduced burden of dependents, having to take care of fewer children, without having too much strain of having to care for elderly persons. At the moment, every 100 persons in the working age group take care of 15 old people.

The decline in fertility has reduced the overall dependency burden from 94.0 in 1961 to 64.3 in 1991.Though the aged dependency ratios are on the increase, the overall dependency ratio has shown a decline of 30 points during 1961-91.

The projected age dependency ratios for the period 2001-2051 are also shown in Table 2. During this period, the young dependency ratios are expected to decline from 39 in 2001 to 24 in 2051. On the other hand, the aged dependency ratios are expected to increase from 15 in 2001 to 57 in 2051. The implications of these ratios for the future is that instead of every six working age persons there would be only two working persons in 2051 who will have to share the responsibility of taking care of at least one aged person. Moreover, the probability of this aged person being a woman, who is a widow, less skilled, less educated and not working, non-recipient of social security allowance, unhealthy without health insurance, is also much higher.

The index of ageing was nearly 14 in 1961, increased to 15 in 1971 and 29 in 1991. We can also see from the table that the increase between 1961 and 1971 was only by 2 points, whereas this increase was 6 points between 1971 and 1981 and another 7 points between 1981 and 1991 indicating the acceleration of the ageing process in Kerala. Our projections indicate that the ageing index for the year 2041 will be 190, 5 times higher than the 2001 value of 38. This simply means that in Kerala, the rate of increase among elderly persons will be much higher. In 2051, there is likely to be 241 elderly persons for every 100 children in the state.

In other words, in the future, every household in Kerala will have to take care of one child and an aged mother or father or both. The implications of this to the family would be quite substantial as the cost and care of an older person is different from that of a child. For the society, this shift in the dependency structure will mean a substantial change in the type of public sector expenditure. Furthermore, while the care of the child is the direct responsibility of the parents, the care of the extreme elderly has only a social obligation without any legal sanction.

Gulf Migration Survey 2004
The Centre for Development Studies has completed two migration surveys in Kerala covering 10,000 households throughout Kerala in 1999 and 2004 (Zachariah, Mathew and Irudaya Rajan, 2003; Zachariah and Irudaya Rajan, 2004). We have extensively tabulated the raw data for this paper to assess the various issues pertaining to elderly.

In 1999, around 58 percent of households in Kerala did not have any elderly persons and this number declined further to 52 percent in 2004 – decline of six percentage points – indicating a changing household atmosphere where the elderly do not stay with other members of the family. In one of the recent discussions with a group of elderly in an institutional set up, elderly couple (they live alone as old couples) told to the senior author : ‘We are interested in staying with our children and grand children but they are not interested in us, thus we are staying alone managing our day to day affairs.’ As almost half of the households in Kerala have no elderly persons to live with, they do not understand the advantages and disadvantages of elderly persons living with them. Another 33 percent of households in Kerala accommodate just one elderly – either widow or widower either from the husband or the wife’s side. In other words, almost all the elderly living in these households are just widows or widowers. Two elderly living in the same household have gone up from 11 percent to 14 percent indicating an increase in the life expectancy among elderly males and females. Almost one in six couples in Kerala live beyond sixty as couples without losing their partners. Households with more than three elderly formed less than one percent in 2004.

Until now, data on the elderly by districts from the 2001 census is not available. To fill the gap, we have tabulated the proportion of the elderly in all districts of Kerala for the years 1999 and 2004 from the migration surveys. Results are presented in Table 4. Between 1999 and 2004, the proportion of the elderly to the total population in Kerala has increased from 11 to 14 during the last five years. Among the districts of Kerala in 2004, the highest proportion of elderly is found in Pathanamthitta followed by Kottayam, Ernakulam and Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram districts – above the state average. The lowest is found in Wayanad. However, 12 out of 14 districts in Kerala have already crossed 10 percent mark, with Pathanamthitta district showing the maximum of 21percent – double than the Malappuram figure. Districts which were the forerunners in fertility and mortality transition, have reported higher proportion of the elderly. (Guilmoto and Irudaya Rajan, 2001; 2002). In 2004, almost all the districts of Kerala have reported more proportion of female elderly than males, except Kollam, Idukki and Malappuram. Hence, any social policy measures to enhance the welfare of the elderly should take note of this phenomenon.

Among the elderly in Kerala, close to 56 percent belong to young old (60-69 years), another 31 percent are old old (70-79 years) and only 13 percent are oldest old (80 and above). Among them, there are more females than males (Gulati and Irudaya Rajan, 1999). The sex ratio (males per 1000 females) of all the elderly age groups indicates the preponderance of women among the elderly. In the age group 85 and above, there are 647 males for 1000 females. Most of the women lose their husbands in old age due to sex differentials in mortality and age differentials at the time of marriage. This is reflected among the sex ratios of the widowed. All these dimensions of widowhood among the aged should be considered very seriously when formulating economic and social security measures.

The majority of the men (86 percent) were married; but among women, the majority (56 percent) came under widow category. Similarly, close to 5 percent of women were either single or divorced or separated as against 2.5 percent among men. Women require more social and economic attention in old age as most of them have us property or assets in their name. In an earlier study, around 60 percent of rural and urban elderly females and 30 percent of rural and urban males in India had no valuable assets in their name. Among the major states in India, Kerala ranks first with 76 percent of its elderly women reporting no financial assets in their name (Irudaya Rajan, 2004).

We have also analysed the status of current co-residence arrangements among the Kerala elderly by sex as of 2004. Interestingly, in both Kerala and India, 2.5 percent of elderly live alone in their respective households (Irudaya Rajan and Sanjay Kumar, 2003). Among them, 4 percent are females and most likely, all of them are widows. Another 8 percent of elderly live with their spouses. Among the elderly, three-fourth of elderly males live with their spouses, children and grand children compared to 50 percent of females. On the other hand, almost 40 percent of females live in Kerala without spouses but live with their children and grand children as against just 11 percent. The elderly living with strangers or non-relatives in a household is not common in Kerala.

Note: Special Tabulations from the Kerala Migration Surveys

According to the recent survey conducted by the senior author, the number of old age homes in Kerala is 134, one-fifth of India’s number. Currently, at least 5 old age homes are coming up every year. The number of inmates reported in the survey was 5076 persons, of which 60 percent are females.

Social Security

Kerala has made remarkable progress in its demographic transition. The state has achieved below replacement level of fertility two decades ahead of the all-India target year of 2011. The TFR (Total fertility rate denotes the average number of children that would be born to a woman during her life time, if she passes through her child bearing years confirming the current age specific fertility rates) declined from a high level of 5.6 in 1951-61 to about 1.7 in 1993, a level which is very much below the replacement level of 2.05. The population growth rate has declined to about 1 per cent per annum in 1995 from 2.3 per cent per year during 1961-71. Among all the states in India, longevity is highest in Kerala, for both men and women (Zacharaih and Irudaya Rajan 1997; Irudaya Rajan and Zachariah, 1998). While Kerala has the unique distinction of being the first state in India to complete the demographic transition, one of the immediate consequences of the successful completion of the demographic transition has been population aging. In this context, let us briefly assess the social security programs in Kerala.

Successive governments in Kerala have introduced 35 social security and assistance schemes, which are currently being implemented. Among the southern states, Kerala spends close to 3 percent of its budget social security programs and the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the expenditure ranges between 2.3 and 2.5. Brief details about each scheme such as eligibility criteria, year of introduction, and annual expenditure incurred are given elsewhere (Irudaya Rajan, Mishra and Sarma, 1999). The schemes are classified into four categories and we shall list the programs meant for the elderly.

A)Schemes which are fully financed by the State and Central Governments:

  1. National Old Age Pensio

B) Schemes which are fully financed by the state:

2. Kerala Destitute and Widow Pension Scheme

3. Kerala Agricultural Workers’ Pension Scheme

4. Special Pension Scheme for the physically handicapped and mentally retarded

5. Old age pension to craftsmen

6. Pension to sportsmen in indigent circumstances

7. Pension to journalists in indigent circumstances

8. Pension to cine artistes in indigent circumstances

9 .Pension to freedom fighters

10. Pension to second world war veterans

C) Major schemes which are financed with partial state support

11. Kerala Coir Workers’ Welfare Fund

12. Kerala Construction Workers’ Welfare Fund

13 . Kerala Fishermen’s Welfare Fund

D) Schemes which are financed outside the budget and operated by respective boards

14. Kerala Headload Workers’ Welfare Fund

15. Kerala Abkari Workers’ Welfare Fund Scheme

16. Kerala Toddy Workers’ Welfare Fund

17. Kerala Agricultural Workers’ Welfare Fund

Among the programs, the highest number of beneficiaries is reported for agricultural worker pension (5.3 lakh), followed by widow/destitute pension (2.1 lakh), pension for persons with disabilities (1.5 lakh) and national old age pensions (1.4 lakh) (details see Table 8). In total, close to 12 lakh elderly persons receive some financial assistance from the Kerala government. Do they get the money regularly? Is it enough for sustaining the livelihood? We have to do more field level research on this subject. In this paper, we would like to document the agricultural workers’ pension scheme in detail.

Source: Compiled from the latest economic review published by the state planning board, Government of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.

The district level profiles of beneficiaries for the three major pension schemes are presented in Table 9. The highest number of agricultural pension beneficiaries is reported for Thiruvananthapuram, followed by Alappuzha and Kozhikode. On the other hand, Malappuram leads with the highest number of widow/destitute pension beneficiaries, followed by Kollam and Kozhikode. In terms of national old age pension schemes, Palakkad leads with the highest, followed by Kollam and Malappuram. Is there any link between the number of elderly persons and the number of beneficiaries? It calls for further investigation.

Table 9 : Major pension Scheme Beneficiaries in Kerala by Districts, 2003

Agricultural Workers’ Pension Scheme
One of the major social assistance schemes implemented in Kerala is the Kerala Agricultural Workers’ Pension Scheme which came into existence in 1980 (for more details, see Gulati, 1990; Irudaya Rajan, 1999). The pension amount was originally fixed at Rs.45; it was raised to Rs.60 in 1987, to Rs.70 in 1991 and again to Rs.100 in 1996. According to the provisions of the scheme, the beneficiaries should be agricultural workers above the age of 60 whose annual income does not exceed Rs.11000 (State Planning Board, 2004). An agricultural worker is defined as a worker, other than those covered by plantation labour Act, depending principally on agricultural wages for livelihood and residing within the state for a continuous period of at least 10 years, immediately preceding the date of application. Agricultural workers with physical infirmity are also eligible for pension. The State Labour Commissioner is the administrator of the scheme. The amount is payable once in three months, in January, April, July and October by money order.

In 1999, 3.1 lakh persons had benefited by the scheme; of which, 58 per cent were women. Kerala had 19.47 lakh agricultural labourers and the scheme covered 16 per cent of them. The expenditure on this pension scheme increased sharply from Rs.1615 lakhs in 1986-87 to Rs.2690 lakhs in 1991 and to Rs. 3720 lakhs in 1999 (see Table 10). The increase was due to increase in the coverage of workers and the upward revision of the rates effected in 1988 and 1991.

Can Kerala afford to provide social security or assistance or financial security for the growing number of the elderly? Let us assess it with facts and figures. According to our projections, the number of the elderly in Kerala in 2001 was 31 lakhs. According to the discussion the senior author had with various departments in Kerala, the state approximately 4 lakh pensioners retired from the Kerala government services from other state governments outside Kerala and returned to Kerala after retirement plus the military, railways, post and telegraph pensioners. In other words, close to 15 percent of the elderly in Kerala form the creamy layer of the senior citizens. They are not looking for any assistance from the Kerala government.

Recently, the senior author calculated the work participation rates among the elderly based on the NSS 1999-2000 round and found the rate was around 50 percent for the elderly in Kerala. One has to view these trends in work participation rates in the context of widespread of poverty and inadequate social security system. In Kerala, even at the age of 80, 10 percent of elderly continue to work. As long as they work, theoretically, they do not look for free money from the government.

Two other important observations also can be made in this context. Absolute number of children has come down in Kerala and it has already led the government to close uneconomic schools. It simply means that government can divert some money from primary education to social security.

Similarly, the fertility levels in Kerala are too low and according to our predictions, it will hover around 1.5 children per woman. Recent studies indicated that more than 70 percent of women in Kerala are protected by various family planning methods and 80 percent among them are sterilised. What is the role of the family planning program in Kerala in the future? If this is the ground situation in Kerala, the government can also divert some money from family planning to social security.

According to the latest economic review, around 12 lakh elderly are beneficiaries of various social security and assistance schemes in Kerala. They account for 40 percent of the elderly population. Not even a single systematic study exists in Kerala to assess the real beneficiaries.

If the government can implement all the schemes very seriously and provide assistance to the realy needy among elderly (the senior author filed observations that indicate starvation among the Kerala elderly), Kerala can continue to run the social assistance schemes without much financial constraints. The budget for social welfare can be increased by diverting money from family planning and primary education. We hope that the government through panchayat level institutions will be able not only to identify the needy (real) beneficiaries but also enhance the financial assistance from the current level of Rs. 110 to Rs. 300 per month. For this, a bold step in the right direction is needed.


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SABU ALIYAR. Currently working as a project associate at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. His Ph.D is on Demography on the Economics of Low Fertility in Kerala. His areas of interest are population projections, ageing, demographic transition and sex ratio. He has published various articles in journals and edited books.

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SABU ALIYAR. Currently working as a project associate at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. His Ph.D is on Demography on the Economics of Low Fertility in Kerala. His areas of interest are population projections, ageing, demographic transition and sex ratio. He has published various articles in journals and edited books.

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