Sociology and Elderly Population Essay

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Ageing is a byproduct of physical, psychological and social processes. While contextualizing the process of ageing, the main thrust of the sociology both as a discipline and movement, is to reflect on how and to what extent transformations in the society and of the individual life influence each other, as individuals of different age categories pass through social system instructions, values and norms. Sociologists specify three interrelated processes of ageing: physical, psychological and social. First, the physical ageing refers to the internal and external physiological changes that take place in the individual body.

Second, the psychological ageing is understood as the developmental changes in mental functioning-emotional and cognitive capacities. Third, the social ageing focuses on the changes such as: how individuals are viewed, what individuals expect of themselves, and what is expected of them from others that individuals experience over the various age categories. However, sociologists are paying attention to the socio-economic and cultural antecedents of the process of ageing. Furthermore, ageing does not mean what an individuals is able to act rather it facilitates what he/she is expected to act, permitted to act or prohibited from acting.

Ageing bring in its wake a host of changes in body and mind with consequent impact on the life style and social relations. Ageing puts women in India in a particularly disadvantageous position, a position where women in general get marginalized and are meted out a deplorable treatment. During the Pre-Vedic; old age and the elderly are herms which are common currency in most popular uses and more academic environment. Despite the frequencies with which the terms are used the definition of exactly what is old age is problematic.

Academicians have defined old age from various angles one of them is from biological view point. Biologists refer to ageing as senescence this is a general term which is used to describe decrease in the efficient functioning of an organism is a natural process which must be distinguished from abnormal processes which bring about pathology and disease. Biologists consider that ageing is the change which occurs in the post reproductive phase of life, resulting in a decrease in the survival capacity of the organism. Ageing is viewed as an involuntary phase in the development of the organism which brings about a decrease in its adaptive capacities.

Another view point of defining old age is through chronology. Chronologists suggest that calendar is frequently useful to define the onset of old age. Their opinion is that ageing is based upon the cultural ascriptions of the society. The age at which old age is thought to start varies indifferent cultures for example in some primitive and tribal societys old age starts at 60 and in most western industrial countries it starts at 65 to 70 years. Third approach of defining old age is through economic dependency. This approach considers that the experience of ageing and late life can best be understood by looking at the position of the elderly in relation to the labour market and the relationship and social structures that this produces. Emphasis is given to the peripheral status of the elderly in society as dominant age cohorts assume their economic functions.


The population of India is currently moving toward an old age structure and it is certain that there will be rapid growth in the elderly population in the near future. According to census 2001, India accounts for 7.4 percent elderly population i.e., 76.6 million. The highest proportion of elderly among states and union territories is found in Kerala (10.5 percent) and lowest proportion was found in Dadra & Nagar Haveli (4.0 percent). The percentage is higher in the southern states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. But other states like Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, Uttaranchal and Pondicherry than the Indian average. The evolution of old age structure changes the balance of men and women in the whole population. Sex ratios of older age group are higher in those states. There are 168 districts where elderly population is more than 8 percent. The quantum of population ageing has important implications for government policies such as pension schemes, old age homes, health care and economic growth.

According to projections, the elderly in age group 60 and above is expected to increase from 71 million in 2001 to 179 million in 2031 and further to 301 million in 2051; in the case of those 70 years and older, they are projected to increase from 27 million in 2001 to 132 million in 2051. Among the elderly persons 80 and above, they are likely to improve their numbers from 5.4 million in 2021 to 32.0 million in 2051. The increasing number and proportion of elderly will have a direct impact on the demand for health services and pension and social security payments (Irudaya Rajan et al., 2005)

Rural urban differentials among the aged in India have been noticed by in some of the south Indian states. South India ranks second in proportion of the rural elderly. Among the South India has more female sex composition of the elderly population, Kerala being the first state, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu is the only state in India which has shown gradual increase in masculine sex ratio and rise in the age of its rural population (Jayarani Reddy et al., 1999)

The Indian population has been ageing over the years and the proportion of older people has been growing. But this increase in life expectancy will not be an unqualified success until adequate provision for the care of the elderly is made. At present, the elderly often suffer abuse and as in any group, women suffer worse than men (Karkal et al., 1999)

The National Sample Survey: Survey of the Aged

The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), a division of the Department of Statistics operating within the Ministry of Planning and Programme Implementation is a nodal statistical data on various economic and social issues through carefully designed surveys throughout the country. The NSSO, for the first time, conducted a survey on aged persons along with a survey on social consumption in its 42nd Round (July 1986 to June 1987). The survey was carried out to assess the nature and dimensions of the socio-economic problems of the aged. After a gap of a decade, the survey on social consumption was repeated in the 52nd Round (July 1995 to June 1996). In this survey, additional information on education and health were sought.

In the survey, data on the number of living children of the aged, their living arrangements, state of economic independence, number of dependants, persons supporting the aged, disability, chronic ailments, state of health and their familial roles in the household were collected. Information was also gathered on the routine activities of the elderly, retirement benefits, provisions of regular income etc. Some major findings of the status of the elderly in India are as follows:

¢ There are more elderly in rural areas. There is also movement of the elderly form urban to rural areas.

¢ Old age dependency is higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

¢ There are more females than males among the aged, and, in contrast to the general sex ratio, the elderly sex ratios are rising.

¢ The elderly are much less literate and educated than the general population.

¢ There are a considerable number of single elderly of whom majorities are widows. However, the proportion of widows is on the decline.

¢ About 94 percent of the elderly in India has children surviving them but a large number of the elderly are without any children.

¢ The elderly generally live with their spouses/children and other relatives, however more and more elderly are now living without their children.

¢ The elderly are still working for a living in the absence of any suitable social security.

¢ As many as 70 percent of the aged depend on others for their day-to-day maintenance. This situation is far worse for elderly females, 85 to 87 percent to whom are dependent on others.

¢ By and large the elderly are still supported by their children. Interestingly, even sixth elderly is supported by his/her spouse.

¢ More elderly men than women are supported by their family.

¢ Majorities of the elderly are not supported by any retirement benefits and the problem is compounded in rural areas.

¢ About 54 percent of the aged own financial assets and housing, though many of them do not have any management rights or control over them.

¢ The prevalence of chronic disease among the aged is quite high and it is higher still in urban areas. Problems of the joints and throat are the most common.

¢ The prevalence of disability among the aged is also very high.

¢ A great majority of the elderly participate in social and religious matters and in household chores, though a large number of them cannot participate in household activities.


Certainly, there is now enough evidence of a growing incidence of low levels of well-being among the aged in Asia, particularly for India for which enough data is currently available. The current view is that there is an inverse relationship between modernization, urbanization and industrialization in society and that the status accorded to the aged, (Cowgril et al., 1972), cannot be supported from the analysis of data from India and other Asian countries, family relationships are still intact. Certainly there is a general lower incidence of the elderly living with their children and grandchildren. This, however, should not be viewed as a negative development. It may be interpreted as the desire of the elderly for greater autonomy and freedom. As Heisel points out, social development does not necessarily result in a worsened situation for the aged.

The aged today are simply temporary victims of demographic and economic transition. As economic development takes place and demographic factors adjust accordingly, the conditions of the aged may improve. Currently, they are in transition from high levels of well-being in which institutional support is a major component. There is only an intervening period of low, average levels of well-being in which emerging governmental support is not sufficient to counterbalance reduction in family-based support. This is what Palmore and Manton predicted in 1974: early stages of economic development correspond to the relative decrement of resources held by the aged, but in economically advanced nations, entitlements such as pension plans begin to redress the previous losses incurred.


Chakraborti, R.D. 2004. The Greying of India: Population Ageing in the Context of Asia, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Cowdril, D.O., and Holmes, L.D. 1972. Ageing and Modernisation. Appleton Century Crofts, New York.

Heisel, M.A. 1984. Ageing in the Context of Population Polices in Developing
Countries, Population Bulletin of the United States, 17: 54.

Irudaya Rajan, S., Sankara Sarma, P. and Mishra, U.S. 2005. Demography of Indian Ageing, 2001-2051, in Liebig, P.S and Irudaya Rajan, S. (eds), An Ageing India: Perspectives, Prosptect and Policeis: Rawat Publication, New Delhi.

Jayarani Reddy, P. and Usharani, D. 1999. Perspectives on Elderly in India: Ruarl-Urban Analysis in Murali Desai and Siva Raju (eds), Gerontological Social Work in India: Some Issues and Perspectives, B.R. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi.

Karkal and Malini. 1999. Ageing and Women in India, Economic and Political Weekly, 34 (44), 54-56.

Muthukrishnaveni, S. 2010. Living Arrangements and Health Conditions of Elderly in Rural India, Serials Publications, New Delhi.

Palmore, E and Manton, K. 1974. Modernisation and the Status of the Aged: International Correlation, Journal of Gerontology, 29, pp. 205-210.

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