CSES in Media

Kerala must prepare to face future with increasing ageing population, says study

This report on CSES study was published in The Hindu on 04-11-2021

The study was done by the Centre for Socio-Economic and Environmental Studies in Kochi

Kerala needs to focus on the challenges posed by an increasingly ageing population in the midst of a demographic transition that has seen fertility level falling below the replacement level and life expectancy remaining at 75 years. The State must draw up long-term strategies to face a situation in which there is a decline in the working population or the young, says a recent study by the Centre for Socio-Economic and Environmental Studies in Kochi.

Kerala society is increasingly becoming an ageing society. The share of the young workforce (aged 20-34 years) in the working age population has come down from 50% in 1991 to 39% in 2011. Census-based population projections indicate that the downward movement will continue in the coming years. The decline in the young workforce leads to shortage of labour, especially for physical works as well as semi-skilled works.

Demographic transition means a significant change in the population composition of a community of people. Such a transition had an early onset in the State. Decadal population growth was 5 per cent during 2001-2011 period. The situation has created some unique challenges, says Baishali Goswami, associate fellow at CSES, who led the study.

The State achieved replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman in 1988. The below replacement level fertility had been achieved in the Western countries, and more recently in the east and south-east Asian countries, following social changes like late marriages and child-bearing, disruption of nuclear families, rising divorce rates etc.

Kerala has exhibited a sluggish fertility transition after attaining replacement level. Total fertility rate declined from four children per woman in 1971 to two children per woman in 1988. Since then the fertility rate is hovering around 1.7 to 1.9 children per woman for over three decades showing limited signs of a rapid decline in the post-replacement transitional phase.

According to the National Family Health Survey (2015-16), the median age at first marriage among women is 21.5 years, the percentage of women who never married is merely four percent and there is no significant change in divorce rates. Postponement of parenthood within the marital union through delayed first birth is increasing, although at a slow pace. Hence, unlike the demographically-advanced Asian countries, institutions of marriage and family still have high relevance in the post-transitional Kerala society.

It is argued that a key factor like “familism” or family-centrality, a family-centred welfare system, a family-based production system and a family-oriented value system may have postponed the onset or full experience of further decline in population. However, educational advancement, especially among women, may change the value system favouring more egalitarian gender roles and subsequent changes in the institutions of marriage and child-bearing.

Below replacement or an ultra-low fertility (Total Fertility Rate at or below 1.3) and the resulting rapid ageing or negative population growth have their own demographic repercussions. The State needs to recognize this at the earliest to create a conducive environment of non-family-based support systems so that the present total fertility rate can be sustained, the study added.