The ageing of the population is an irreversible and unavoidable phenomenon that is the result of the demographic transition, occurring in all societies. In light of declining fertility and mortality rates, the age-distribution centre has moved toward the higher age group over time. According to the UN Report on World Population Ageing (2015), several developing nations are experiencing rapid population ageing compared with developed countries. Ageing in India is expected to accelerate over the coming years compared to other developing countries (Alam, 2004). Since the 1990s, the overall population growth rate has slowed, growing at a diminishing rate (Census of India, 2011). People are living longer, and both the absolute number of the elderly and their relative share are growing rapidly. Based on Table 1, the trend of ageing in the Indian population can be seen in different censuses.

As per Census of India data for the decade ending in 2011, there were 103,849,040 older adults of age 60 years and above in the country, which is over 8 per cent of the population. In the subsequent two decades, even though India was able to reduce its growth rate to 5 and 4 per cent, its burgeoning elderly cohort never showed signs of reprieve. The decadal growth rate of the older segment of the population, which so far remained confined to around 35 per cent, is projected to grow to 40 per cent with the share of old people in the population going beyond 13 per cent.

With the growing geriatric cohort, the decadal trend shows that women usually dominate this population sub-group (Figure 1). Thus, sex-ratio among the elderly favours women and is expected to continue for the country as a whole.

Traditionally, women marry older men. In light of this, women may generally live longer but they often become widows after the death of their husband, which is natural for biological and physiological reasons. Compared to developed nations with higher economic development, the economic and social situation of the elderly is a cause for concern in developing nations like India, because most women do not have either social or economic security. With an increased proportion of women, the problems might only get aggravated. In the absence of a spouse, a feeling of loneliness looms large among them.

As urbanisation and globalisation accelerate in India, traditional values and norms are gradually being replaced (Rajan and Kumar, 2003). The socio-economic transformation, as may be seen in the context of changes in the value system, the migration of young and working-age family members to urban areas for jobs, and an increase in the participation of women in the workforce, is affecting the socio-filial lives of the elderly (Siva Raju, 2011). The nucleation of families is the biggest area of concern in the living arena because the elderly lack the physical and financial support that they deeply need. Despite all these factors, families have always been considered to be the strongest source of support for the elderly. In several survey rounds, the National Sample Survey of India has collected information about the living arrangements of elderly people. Herewith are the data on the living patterns of the aged from the three most recent rounds in 2004, 2014 and 2018. The NSS survey schedule on Household Social Consumption on Health asks elderly citizens about their living pattern with the following options: living with spouse only, living with spouse and other members, living without spouse but with children, living without spouse but with other relationships, living without spouse but with non-relatives, living alone in old-age homes, etc. These patterns are further divided into “co-residence with spouse only”, “co-residence with children”, and “living alone with other relatives or non-relatives”.

The survey data reveals a common trend: about 75 to 80 per cent of older citizens prefer to live with their children (Table 2). It is intuitively possible for older men (around 15 to 20 per cent) to remain with their spouses for a longer period than older women (around 10 per cent), for many of them to get widowed. As a result, elderly women may be even more vulnerable because they stay in other people’s houses with distant relatives or non-relatives or in old age homes, in greater numbers than male elderly people.

The financial prowess of elderly people slows down as they get older. The strongly expressed preference is for co-residence with children and is attributed to the desire for economic support. The NSS data also provide information on the extent of economic dependency among older citizens. In the last three survey rounds, there has been clear evidence of gender discrimination in the area of economic sovereignty. It is widely believed that men are the primary bread earners in any family.

Men have primary earning potential during their working age, so over 50% remain financially independent and are not dependent as they get older (Figure 2). In contrast, over 70 per cent of the female elderly are fully dependent on others for their financial needs. Indian women often have little or no paid work and are faced with insufficient income, making them entirely dependent on their families.



Is the preference in co-residence pattern associated with financial dependency? 

One reason why elderly individuals in a family prefer to stay with their children and family, is to secure economic support. It can be observed that elderly parents, on 50% occasions, prefer staying with their children due to their high level of financial dependence. When older persons have economic liberty, 51 per cent of them choose to stay with their spouses only in order to not depend on others for their daily expenses. However, 33 per cent stay only with their spouse, even if they are financially dependent. It might be that such an elderly couple has married daughters and are forced to live alone (Table3). 

On crossing the 60-to-65-year mark, elderly people are commonly thought to have a lower degree of financial autonomy, primarily as a result of retirement or quitting their jobs. Families are generally assumed to be responsible for providing material and non-material needs for elderly dependents (Bakshi and Pathak, 2016). Because it is the usual practice that younger members of a family provide material and non-material support to elderly adults and thereby making the elderly persons prefer to co-reside with their family members comprising of their own sons and daughters.



Alam, M. (2004). “Ageing, old age income security and reforms: An Exploration of Indian Situation”, Economic and Political Weekly, 39, 33, 731-740.

Bakshi, S., and P. Pathak (2016). “Ageing and the Socioeconomic Life of Older Adults in India: An Empirical Exposition”, SAGE Open, 6, 1,1 – 17

Census of India (2011). “Population Projections for India and States 2011 – 2036”, A Report of National Commission on Population, Published in November, 2019.

NSO (2021). “Elderly in India – 2021”. A Report by the National Statistics Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India.

Rajan, S. I., and S. Kumar (2003). “Living Arrangement among Indian Elderly: New Evidences from National Family Health Survey”, Economic and Political Weekly, 38, 1, 75-80.

Siva Raju, S. (2011). “Studies on Ageing in India: A Review”, BKPAI Working Paper No. 2, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), New Delhi.

United Nations (2015). “World Population Ageing 2015”, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, U N, New York.


Dr. Sujoy Kumar Majumdar is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Raiganj University, West Bengal. He holds a PhD in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Prior to joining Raiganj University, he worked at NCAER, NIUA, and NIHFW in New Delhi. His research interests are broadly in the areas of Development Economics, Labour Economics and issues related to Health & Population. He has published a number of research articles in reputed national and international journals and supervised M.Phil and Ph.D. scholars.

Mr. Brotin Saha is a Ph.D. Scholar from the Department of Economics, Raiganj University, West Bengal and Assistant Professor of Economics at Gangarampur College under University of Gour Banga. Prior to joining his current position; he worked as Research Analyst at NCAER. New Delhi.  Having completed his graduation and master’s degrees at Jadavpur University, he also earned an M.Phil in Economics from the same university. His research interests involve Demography and Social Economics. He has published a number of research articles in reputed journals like SAGE and the Indian Journal of Economics.