Age ‘Matters’

Demographic changes require policymakers’ attention

Moa Jamir

In an innovative initiative, Friends of 80plus Kohima village celebrated its 18th Foundation Day on April 30 by emphasizing the Naga traditional practice of respecting and valuing elders. This initiative serves as a reminder to policymakers about the importance of adopting appropriate policies that address issues of ageing and demographic change.

When the global population reached 8 billion in November 2022, the United Nations noted that the changing demographic profile of the world was interspersed with the slowest rate since 1950, but contrasted with a perceptible increase in the number of persons aged 65 years or over worldwide. According to the UN, population ageing, which is a process whereby older individuals account for a proportionally larger share of the total population, was a key demographic outcome of population trends during the twentieth century and will likely be the distinctive trait of populations during the twenty-first century. In other words, population ageing will remain a powerful force shaping the politics of welfare provision and other aspects in many nations.

This is particularly true in the European Union (EU) and Europe, which has been undergoing paradigmatic demographic changes over the years, ironically due to its affluence and advanced economic development. As of January 1, 2022, more than one fifth (21.1%) of the European Union (EU) population was aged 65 and projected to reach 129.8 million by 2050. The median age was 44.4 years, which means that half of the EU's population was older than 44.4 years in 2022, while it is projected that there will be close to half a million centenarians in the EU-27 by 2050. In the EU's definition, older people are those aged 65 years or more. The low birth rate and higher life expectancy are transforming the shape of the EU's age pyramid, resulting in migration becoming a contentious issue.

This has put a strain on the viability of the European Social Model, which upholds social security for all citizens and limits inequality. These developments are likely to have profound implications, not only for individuals but also for governments, businesses, and civil society, impacting health and social care systems, labor markets, public finances, pension entitlements, and more.

While Nagaland has not yet experienced such a demographic shift, some traits are visible. According to the Nagaland SDG Vision 2030, around 7% of the population is over the age of 60 years. The number is based on the Census 2011 and is projected to increase further with improvements in healthcare and other quality of life indicators. The age pyramid of the 2011 census prepared by the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner showed that the number of people in Nagaland in the age group of 60 and above was 102,726. Immediately below the cohort in the 50-59 age group, however, was 108,257, higher than the combined 60 and above populations. By 2023, the cohort would have crossed the 60 and above threshold.

On the other hand, after two decades of "incredible growth," Nagaland's population decreased from 19.90 lakh in 2001 to 19.79 lakh in 2011. Meanwhile, the periodic National Family Health Survey (NFHS) published by the MoHFW has also highlighted the falling total fertility rate (TFR), or the number of children per woman, in Nagaland over the years. According to the latest NFHS (5), the TFR in Nagaland was just 1.7 children per woman, well below the 2.1 replacement level, which is understood as the level of fertility at which a population replaces itself exactly from one generation to the next, without migration. Since NFHS-3, conducted in 2005-06 when the TFR was 3.8, the rate has been decreasing consistently. 

Hence, what Europe and other regions are undergoing is also the future for India and Nagaland. Thus, the demographic changes and their implications require our attention, as they may have adverse impacts on the delivery of public policies and governance. Policymakers must holistically examine issues related to aging and demographic changes and implement appropriate policies to counter any potential adverse effects in the future. Demographic changes are a significant social, economic, and policy concern that affect all aspects of public and private life.

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